Gov. Mills discusses distance learning challenges

Fri, 05/15/2020 - 6:15pm

The following is a transcript of a radio address given Friday, May 15 by Governor Janet Mills:

I am the daughter of a Maine public school teacher, so I know firsthand how important the work of Maine teachers is and the many challenges they have to overcome every day. Right now, our teachers and students are rising to meet an even greater challenge — adapting to distance learning amid this dangerous COVID-19 pandemic.

Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.

I want to thank all Maine teachers for their continued devotion to our students even as, in many cases, you care for your own children at home. We will get through this. In the meantime, you continue to guide your students through a very uncertain time, and inspire them and set them on the path to a bright future.

While you do that important work, it is our responsibility to ensure that you, and all of our students, have what you need to stay connected during these difficult times.

Internet access is a necessity, not a luxury now and yet too many families lack access to high-speed internet, especially in some rural areas of our state.

Universal connectivity is more important than ever before during this pandemic as teachers try to stay connected to their students across Maine.

So, I am proud to announce that we have used federal funding and donations to secure internet access and provide internet devices to facilitate at home learning for 100 percent of the Maine children who said that they needed it.

The Department of Education conducted surveys of all public schools and private schools who serve public school students to understand the connectivity needs of students statewide — 21,845 students said they lacked connectivity. That’s a lot of kids.  Based on data from the 75 percent of schools that responded, about 2/3 of them said they needed a wireless service contract and about a third said they just needed a device, you know a hotspot or something.

So, to meet that need, our Administration has acquired service contracts for all those students through three different service providers, nearly all of which are for WiFi-enabled Galaxy Tablets that can be used as learning tools and hotspots or hotspots only.

Through one service provider, the Department of Education was also able to order MiFi, a wireless router that acts as a mobile WiFi hotspot. And, to fulfill the device only needs, the Maine Department of Education ordered (more than) 7,400 laptops.

The Department of Education is continuing to survey schools to determine further connectivity needs and they are reaching out to both higher education institutions and adult education programs to determine their students’ connectivity needs. 

As we work on returning to in-classroom instruction when it is safe to do so, these new devices will allow Maine students to stay engaged remotely with their school no matter where they live, regardless of their zip code or their family circumstances.

I want to thank the many generous donors and Maine’s Congressional Delegation for their advocacy and support which made this possible.

To all Maine students, I know this school year has been very difficult, but I am proud of the way you have pushed through to continue your education. We will need your skills to create a brighter future for everyone in our state.

And to Maine’s teachers, please know that we deeply appreciate all you do for our children and for the State of Maine. I hope that these devices and these service contracts provide some measure of relief amid a challenging situation to you and your students.

I am Governor Janet Mills. Thank you for listening.