In the photo, two girls are sitting on the sidewalk of a taco bell with computers on their laps and a pencil and paper on the sidewalk in front of them. Two Taco Bell employees can be seen in front of them, one of whom crouches to meet them at eye level.
“California is the technology capital of the world, which is an embarrassment,” he told CNN. “Salinas Valley is 45 minutes from Silicon Valley, and here we have such a huge gap that has existed for years, but now it’s only getting worse because of this pandemic.”
Alejo said he didn’t know who the students were in the photo and couldn’t confirm why they went to Taco Bell, but the photo speaks for the bigger picture of the reality that many students and families face.
“We know there are thousands of other children in a similar situation. Salinas has lots of houses and lots of parents who don’t even know how to use computers or how hotspots work.”
Richard Gebin, Public Relations Officer for Salinas City Elementary Schools District (SCESD) told CNN that Salinas City Elementary School District identified the students immediately after seeing the photo floating around.
“The digital divide is very real, and delays in getting the technology you need are a nationwide problem,” said Amy Ish, president of Salinas City Elementary Schools, in a statement. “We’re grateful that the state is making technology a priority and look forward to maintaining these hotspots in our district.”
For privacy and security reasons, the district would not identify the students or their parents.
Gebin said the district gave the family a hotspot so students could access classroom instructions from home. The district is in remote learning mode and says it has distributed 8,245 Chromebooks and 1,500 hotspots and is waiting for 2,500 additional hotspots.
“Technology is so critical and we cannot think of it as a luxury, it is a necessity of life, it should be seen as utilities like water, electricity and gas,” said Alejo.
In a statement, a spokesman for Taco Bell Corp. told CNN: “The photo of two young girls outside of Salinas, CA Taco Bell is a powerful reminder of the fundamental inequalities our communities are facing.”
“We and our franchisees have always been passionate about supporting youth education, and the owner of this restaurant is looking for additional ways to support these students and the wider community,” said Taco Bell in an email statement.
While the digital divide is an issue across the country, in California, 25% (1,529,000) of the state’s K-12 students do not have the necessary connection and 17% (1,063,000) do not have the proper devices to do the distance Learning from research by Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group.
California is the second largest country after Texas with the highest number of students without adequate access.