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New Law Mandates School IT Planning in Washington, D.C.

The DCPS Digital Equity Act of 2022 requires the school district to create a student technology plan to close the digital divide locally and modernize school IT protocols, with the help of feedback from parents and educators.

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Washington, D.C., passed a new law last week requiring the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) to create a multiyear student technology plan, as K-12 school districts across the U.S. continue working to close the digital divide and make virtual learning more accessible.

The new bill, dubbed the DCPS Digital Equity Act of 2022, mandates that the city's schools have a strategy to teach students digital literacy skills, as well as to ensure access to the Internet, IT support and technology in and out of the classroom. Among other guidelines, the bill requires the school district to assess the IT needs of each school, develop a plan for refreshing and updating technology and create plans for asset management and professional development for teachers using new ed-tech tools.

The bill comes a few months after Washington, D.C., announced the Community Internet Program (CIP), which gives Internet service providers free access to the city's rooftops if they provide high-speed Internet at reduced or no cost to households eligible under the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, and as schools across the country work to narrow the digital divide through a combination of local, state and federal initiatives providing devices and expanding student Internet access.

According to Councilwoman Janeese Lewis George, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the urgency of closing the digital divide for underserved students engaged in remote and hybrid learning.

Lewis George said the DCPS will be required to submit its first comprehensive student technology plan by March 31, 2023. The bill was the first introduced by her since being elected in 2020.

“This issue was a priority for me because of what our students experienced during the pandemic. Access to technology already contributes to disparities in student outcomes, but that effect was supercharged during the pandemic when many families lacked Internet access and the devices needed to participate in virtual learning,” she said in an email to Government Technology. "This legislation will facilitate the critical work of assessing technology gaps in our school system and the strategic planning necessary to meet those needs citywide."

The new bill requires an assessment of schools’ technology needs, including classroom technology, quality of Wi-Fi access and the number and condition of student and teacher devices. It also mandates that schools provide detailed cost estimates for every component of their plan, including for hardware and software acquisition, service provision and capital expenses. In addition, the law requires the district to assess any third-party learning applications that schools use or plan to use, and to place more focus on addressing the needs of students and schools located in areas with weak Internet access.

According to the bill, the planning process will involve engagement with district stakeholders, such as parents and teachers, for feedback on strategies to close the K-12 digital divide. Lewis George said this input will be key to school planning moving forward.

“We are also centering community voices to guide this process through an advisory committee of stakeholders that includes parents, educators and advocates,” she noted in an email.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.