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Girls who used WiFi at Taco Bell for school inspire new California legislation

California

SALINAS, Calif. (KRON) — A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes.

Two girls who appeared in one viral photo and became symbols of the “digital divide” have inspired California lawmakers to attempt to bridge the technology gap for students living in poverty and struggling to thrive through distance learning. 

The children’s rough reality spurred state lawmakers to draw up new legislation to address the digital divide between wealthy and poor students trying to learn through distance learning without a classroom. 

Over the summer, a photo of the girls sitting on the ground outside an East Salinas Taco Bell went viral. The girls had gone to the Taco Bell to get a WiFi connection so that they could join their classes and complete homework.

Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo tweeted the photo with the caption, “We must do better & solve this digital divide once & for all.” 

According to the Salinas City Elementary School District, one of the girls is a first-grader at Sherwood Elementary, and the other is in sixth grade at Los Padres Middle School. 

After the photo was seen across the country, the Salinas school board president said the district found the children’s mother, and gave them a hotspot so that the children could safely access their classes from home. A GoFundMe page helped raise thousands of dollars to help the girls’ mother find housing. 

More recently, their rough reality spurred state lawmakers to draw up new legislation to address the digital divide between wealthy and poor students trying to learn without having a classroom. 

This week Alejo gave KRON4 an update on the girls, how they are doing, and the legislation they inspired. 

“I am pleased to report, I just checked in with the Salinas City Elementary School District, that the girls are doing well. They are still enrolled in the school district and even some learning pods that the school district provided that the girls are participating in (for) additional help during this crisis. The other really good news is it wasn’t just a story that went viral,” Alejo said.

“More importantly, it’s pushed policy-makers to act, not only locally, but also at the state level. Just a week ago, numerous legislators filed several bills to address the digital divide. The most significant one is the multi-billion-dollar bond that will be proposed for the 2022 ballot,” Alejo said.

“When our nation saw this photo of two little girls outside a fast food restaurant in East Salinas, that photo went viral for many reasons. Certainly, a lot of parents and residents from California and throughout our nation knew that image was what so many of our kids were experiencing during this pandemic and not being able to attend school. We have always known the digital divide existed for such a long time. It’s the pandemic that highlighted it and really showed who is being adversely impacted … our most vulnerable children. As they are trying to further their education, they don’t have access to the technology. The legislature has expressed that their priority is to address the digital divide,” he said.

“In fact, the Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Tony Atkins both addressed it in their speeches last week. Atkins mentioned both of these little girls in her speech. It really shows what an impact an image could have, but also the story behind it. A working-class mom who is trying to provide the best while taking care of two little girls. It really showed the struggles of so many families. But I am pleased there is action coming out of this hard situation that we saw through this photo,” Alejo said.

Twitter / Luis Alejo

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