The city's 1.1 million public school students began remote learning this week, but without a good internet connection, Deborah De Booth's oldest daughter wasn't able to join them. 

"My 16-year-old has not even started school yet because of this issue,” she said.

What You Need To Know

  • The city has issued internet-connected iPads to students in city shelters

  • But many families have still struggled to get online due to tech issues or poor cell service in shelters

  • Some elected officials want the city to provide free wifi in shelters, which usually don't have internet service

De Booth and her children live in a Brooklyn shelter that, like most, does not have internet service. The Education Department has provided students with iPads already connected to the internet, but a few weeks ago, the service stopped working on the two issued to her daughters. 

She was able to get a laptop from her 12-year-old's school and connect it to her own phone's mobile hotspot. But she hasn't been able to get the iPad online, or get a replacement for her oldest daughter, who was finally looking forward to school after struggling in the past.

"It’s very frustrating when you see a child that you waited to see that spark in their eye, and then you see it and it’s time for school to start and they can’t start,” she said.

The Education Department said it is working to address any technical issues families are facing. They suggested De Booth's problem may stem from the need to update an app; De Booth said that hasn't worked.

"Nothing the tech support did would work, nothing,” she said.

She isn't alone in having issues. Many shelters don't get good enough cell service for the DOE's devices to get online, advocates said.

"We now need the city to charge someone with looking at why the iPads are not working in certain city shelters and identifying the problem and fixing it because we don’t want students to miss out on anymore school this year,” said Randi Levine, policy director at Advocates for Children.

The organization that runs De Booth's shelter, Win, said they're now working to get her a privately funded hotspot, and that many residents are having problems with DOE devices. They've hired IT support to try to help.

Some elected officials have called on the city to provide wifi in shelters, like they do in other public spaces.

"We’re focused on adapting to an evolving situation, addressing any issues as they arise, and ensuring that the children we serve have the same access to education as all other New York City children,” Department of Social Services spokeswoman Neha Sharma said.

De Booth just wants a solution.

"If there are people out there who can do better, please do better. Please do better,” she said.