More than 200,000 students over the last school year lacked access to devices needed to learn remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, a report released Wednesday by the New York Civil Liberties Union found. 

The report compiled survey data from school districts across the state, comprising 2.6 million students. The findings show hundreds of thousands of students, nearly one in 10, lacked access to devices to access learning and remote classroom instruction. 

The survey data gleaned from the State Education Department also found students of color were more likely to be impacted by remote learning issues. 

“This information underscores just how vulnerable our public schools are after decades of under-funding and racial segregation,” said Johanna Miller, director of the Education Policy Center at the NYCLU. “Education leaders at every level need to examine this issue with their communities and construct solutions that will heal, restore, and compensate for the failure to reach so many kids during the pandemic. The pool of resources to support schools in the budget is finally deep enough to support this. We hope NYSED will help target relief to areas where existing inequities were exacerbated by social isolation, emotional devastation, and loss of instruction.”

Many schools for the last year have been operating under a hybrid model of students learning remotely and others coming into the classroom for in-person instruction. The data also comes as many districts hope to reopen in the fall as the vaccine becomes available for children under age 18. 

“Districts across the state bent over backwards to provide instruction and connection to students this year, but unfortunately inequities in resources proved insurmountable in some areas,” said Irma Solis, the Suffolk County chapter director for the NYCLU. "For all the difficulties of remote learning, it has the potential to increase access and facilitate greater connection for students when paired with in-person instruction, but we can't serve our children better if we don't reimagine how learning happens in our districts. Our students who have historically gone without support and access were the ones doubly burdened by a remote learning education. New York leaders need to take a hard look at this information and use it to help bridge the digital divide and allow our students to get more connected. That means assessing student needs and making sure state funding is dedicated to providing tutoring services, supplemental learning, and social and emotional programming."