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Lightfoot demands that internet providers help bridge digital divide in remote learning at CPS

“It’s a simple matter of dollars and cents. And the question is are they gonna put their profits over the needs of people in low-income neighborhoods who have every right to be connected — not just for school … but businesses, individuals?” the mayor said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a news conference at City Hall to announce remote learning plans for Chicago Public Schools on March 30, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Lori Lightfoot demanded Wednesday that Chicago internet providers stop “putting profits over people” and bridge the digital divide standing in the way of remote learning at Chicago Public Schools.

Lightfoot said CPS has “passed out literally tens of thousands of devices” — laptop computers and tablets — “from their own stockpile” and devices donated by individuals and corporations to make certain that students “are, in fact, connected.”

“Has this process been perfect? No. But are they continuing to work at this issue? Absolutely,” the mayor said.

But Lightfoot said remote learning that may well extend into the fall and the next school year raises larger questions about the digital divide that still exists in Chicago’s most impoverished neighborhoods.

“I’m gonna be pressing the carriers to solve this problem. It’s a simple matter of dollars and cents. And the question is are they gonna put their profits over the needs of people in low-income neighborhoods who have every right to be connected — not just for school … but businesses, individuals,” she said.

“We are living in a digital age. We are providing critical health information to people digitally. And we need to make sure that every neighborhood is connected. The power to do that rests with these carriers, and they’ve got to step up. I know that some of them have programs. But there are flaws in those programs. We need them to work cooperatively with us … to solve the problem.”

Willie Wilson’s ‘generous heart’

On another matter, Lightfoot said she was unaware of any specific offer by millionaire businessman Willie Wilson to distribute 5 million masks at the United Center on Wednesday.

But she did talk to Wilson earlier this week about “something that he planned in the future.”

She asked whether he had a permit and what his plan was to maintain security.

“God bless Willie Wilson for his generous heart. He’s been very generous with his own resources, really going back decades,” she said.

“I would say the same thing to him as I would say to anyone else. We have to do what we do consistent with the state law and guidance. Five million masks sounds like a great thing. Let’s see what your plan is to make sure that we’re doing it in a way that doesn’t have masses of people gathering. That we can do it safely. That people who are out there are protected.”

Lightfoot was also asked about the “harsh” tone she used in admonishing a group of teenagers playing basketball on the West Side last weekend to break it up. The mayoral rebuke was captured on a video now circulating on social media.

Instead of coldly instructing the crowd to, “Go Home,” why not use it as a teaching moment and pass out face masks young people oblivious to the need for social distancing during a pandemic?

“Well, those were a lot of young teens and pre-teens who were gathering on a playground that was closed. And I said to them — as I’d say to my own child — `Hey folks, you gotta go home.’ That’s what I said. And many of them actually had masks, which was a good thing,” Lightfoot said.

“I talk to those young people the same way that I would talk to my own child, which is, `Think about the risk. Don’t put yourself in a difficult position. Because we know that clustering — particularly contact sports — are very, very risky. There’s a reason why the NBA shut down its season. We know that that kind of physical contact is exactly the way that you spread the virus.”