An undocumented mother in Brooklyn continues to wait for an iPad so her young 10-year-old daughter can continue her studies remotely six months from the time she's requested one. The waiting game has set the young student's academics back in untold ways as the city enters its third week of the school year.
The mother, who asked to go by "Letitia" because of her immigration status, has resorted to leaving her daughter, a third grade student, watching television, doing homework, or missing out on instruction during school days. So far, her daughter has missed a total of six days of learning. On days when she is able to log on, Letitia's daughter is learning virtually from her mother's phone. Her son, a fifth grade student, received his iPad but can't always share it since both he and his sister's classes are held simultaneously.
For Letitia, her plight illustrates the kind of academic inequity that existed before COVID-19 but further exacerbated by the virus, leaving those dependent on a frustratingly overwhelmed system. Compounding this further are the language barriers that make it increasingly tough to get answers.
"I keep waiting," said Letitia, who works as a part-time cleaner. "I'll have to keep waiting to see if they're going to give us one. If not, we'll just have to keep waiting. There's nothing we can do."
Her two children attend P.S. 169, a school in Sunset Park, which has struggled to obtain the required tablets for students enrolled in either hybrid and full remote learning, despite its Herculean efforts. Letitia's children are among the 977 students at the school who opted to learn from home exclusively, motivated by fears of COVID-19. Letitia was aware remote learning wouldn't be the same as in-person instruction, though she thought a subpar education would be better than nothing.
"I hope they give me the tablet and not take so long," said Letitia, adding that her inquiries have gone nowhere since the DOE keeps her on hold for a lengthy period of time.
Letitia's family is not alone in waiting for an iPad. Other undocumented families at the Sunset Park school continue to wait for an iPad that was promised as far back as March after the DOE was forced to shift to remote learning because of the pandemic, according to Joanna Cohen, the school's assistant principal.
Cohen has been relaying Letitia's requests for an iPad through the DOE's Remote Learning Device Request form. The iPad order, placed on March 20th, is ranked under "Sent For Shipping," but a review of the list shows an unusual status for Letitia's daughter: "2020-07-20 A Series Cancelled Call Center." Cohen can't make sense of the designation.
"She has really been through the ringer," said Cohen of Letitia and her kids.
Without any guidance from the DOE over what happens if children without iPads are unable to log on, the school marks them as absent.
For Cohen, the experience in tracking down these missing iPads nearly months from the time she's ordered them have been distressing, and confusing. Of the 23 iPads falling under "Sent For Shipping," 11 have been delivered, while another 10 have been inexplicably canceled. Those 10 families continue to await for an iPad. Another was deemed "Bad Address - On Hold."
"I said, 'On those listed as do a cancelation., why were they canceled? I know that students are still in need of them as I've been fielding phone calls from the parents of those students. What is the next step, submit another request?'" said Cohen in a letter she sent to administrators. "And this DOE person writes back, 'it shows 'unwanted' for all of the canceled. At some point the family stated they did not want them. Yes. Submit a new request.' It's crazy."
Sunset Park--which saw a spike in COVID-19 outbreaks in August--is predominantly home to a large swath of immigrants mostly from Hispanic and Asian backgrounds. It's also an enclave for undocumented immigrants who, like Letitia, are fearful of speaking out. Cohen has served as their advocate, pleading with the DOE to stand by these families.
But Cohen remains at the mercy of the DOE since the school does not have any iPads to give to Letitia.
"The fulfillment of these requests has been passed on to schools," said Cohen. "But we are not able to fulfill them, because we don't have any."
Letitia, who has no money to buy her own tablet, is forced to endure.
"They don't have any iPads," said Letitia. "And it's not just me. There are various kids who need tablets to get into class."
In a statement to Gothamist, Sarah Cassanovas, a spokesperson for the DOE, said “We’ve been in touch with the school and are working to get students the devices they need. In the past two weeks we have shipped 37 iPads to the school and have additional devices being prepared for shipment.”
The DOE plans to send another three iPads next week.