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Viral Photo of Two Kids Using Taco Bell Wi-Fi for School Sparks Debate Over Digital Divide

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  • Last week, a photo of two school-age girls doing their schoolwork outside of a Taco Bell in Salinas, California, went viral.
  • While many assumed that the girls originally only lacked access to Wi-Fi, a GoFundMe campaign later revealed that their family was set to be kicked out of their home because they couldn’t afford to pay rent.
  • As of Tuesday, that fundraiser has garnered over $130,000, far-exceeding its original goal of $20,000.
  • The situation has also stimulated debate surrounding the “digital divide,” and how to address it. It is estimated that 30% of K-12 students across the country lack access to the internet or a device capable of accessing it in their homes. 

Taco Bell Schoolwork Photo Goes Viral

A viral photo of two students using a Taco Bell’s Wi-Fi to complete their schoolwork has led to renewed attention around the “digital divide” and how the ongoing pandemic is exacerbating it.

The photo was first posted to Instagram on Wednesday. It shows two young girls in Salinas, California, sitting on a curb with laptops in hand as two employees approach them, likely out of concern for their safety. 

“Two students sit outside a Taco Bell to use Wi-Fi so they can ‘go to school’ online,”  Former California Senate President pro Tempore, Kevin de León, said Friday after sharing the photo on Twitter. “This is California, home to Silicon Valley… but where the digital divide is as deep as ever. Where 40% of all Latinos don’t have internet access. This generation deserves better.”

In the comments under de León’s tweet, a surge of people expressed interest in helping to provide a Wi-Fi router for the girls; however, some were concerned that the image might actually depict a form of child negligence. 

In fact, that photo attracted so much attention that it reportedly led to a welfare check, with Child Protective Services investigating the girls’ family for any potential child neglect or abuse. Ultimately, that investigation did not uncover any neglect. 

Over $130K Raised for the Girls’ Family

As more people reached out to help the girls in the photo, it was learned that their family didn’t just lack access to Wi-Fi at home. They were actually in danger of becoming homeless because their mother couldn’t afford to pay rent. 

Many of the details around the girls’ family have come from a woman named Jackie Lopez, who created a GoFundMe page for the family. Lopez said she originally wanted to start the fundraiser because these “dedicated little girls… didn’t want to miss out on learning due to the fact that they didn’t have internet access at home.”

On the fundraiser page, Lopez said the story touched her and that she made it her mission to locate the family, which she later did. 

According to Lopez, the girls’ mother, Juana, is a single mother and an essential field worker who picks berries. On her days off, Juana sells flowers on the side of the road. Lopez said Juana “doesn’t take a day off because that is a day she could be making a few dollars to provide for her girls.” 

“Upon meeting them and wanting to know what I can do to help, she started to open up to me,” Lopez said of Juana. “I asked her if I could get her girls a desk for distant learning and she mentioned there was no space in their home for that. She then said she shared a small bedroom with her 3 girls in the home she was living in. The same room she was going to be evicted from 3 days later on the 1st of September.” 

Lopez noted that Juana had been searching for a new home but had been unable to find one. 

After reaching out to her followers on Instagram, Lopez said she has been able to provide Juana’s daughters with items such as clothes, shoes, school supplies, essentials, and food. Additionally, Lopez said that support allowed her to buy the family a hotel room for a week while she and others help Juana search for a more permanent home.

The original goal of the fundraiser was set at $20,000. As of Tuesday, it’s raised that more than six times its goal, sitting at more than $130,000.

In an update on Monday, Lopez said that Juana has been set up with a new accountant to help manage her funds.

“The girls deserve it all and my heart is just filled with so much joy for this family,” Lopez said. “I can’t thank you all enough for making so many of their dreams a reality.”

In addition to that money, the school district Jauna’s daughters go to has also put out a statement saying it has now provided the family with a hotspot. 

Taco Bell Incident Highlights “Digital Divide”

While Juana’s family received an exceptional level of support, for many students and their families, this isn’t the case. Many will never go viral and will continue to struggle. 

According to a June study from Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group, “15 to 16 million public school students across the United States live in households without adequate internet access or computing devices to facilitate distance learning.”

That’s 30% of all K-12 public school students. 

But not everyone is affected equally by the “digital divide.” It’s most pronounced in rural communities and households with Black, Latinx, and Native American students.

Southern states also have some of the largest K-12 divides within the country, with Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama showing the largest deficit by proportion. Other states like Texas, California, and Florida all have the largest gaps by population. Still, the report stresses that the “digital divide” is a problem in all 50 states.

Many of those concerns have been highlighted with the story of Juana’s daughters. 

“California is the technology capital of the world,” Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo told CNN. “This is an embarrassment.”

Alejo added that the embarrassment is compounded by the fact that Salinas is only 45 minutes away from Silicon Valley, a global hub of technology and wealth. 

“…we have such a huge divide that’s gone on for years, but now, it’s only amplified because of this pandemic,” Alejo said. 

“We know that there [are] thousands of other kids in a similar situation… there’s a lot of homes and a lot parents who don’t even know how to use computers or how hotspots work.”

See what others are saying: (KSBW 8) (Fox News) (CNN)

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities

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The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.


Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”

Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.

Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.

The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone. 

During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program. 

“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”

Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.” 

“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference. 

“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”

Goals of the  Accountability for Congregate Care Act

Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act. 

“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.

“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.” 

Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.

Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change. 

“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”

While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children. 

Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (NBC News)

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Surgeons Successfully Test Pig Kidney Transplant on a Human

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The procedure has been hailed as a major scientific breakthrough that could eventually open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.


Groundbreaking Procedure

Surgeons at the NYU Langone Transplant Institute revealed Tuesday that they temporarily attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a human patient and found that it worked normally.

The operation was the first of its kind and could one day lead to a vast supply of organs for those who are in severe need. According to the Associated Press, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. are in line for a kidney transplant. Each day, an average of 12 die while waiting.

With the family’s consent, the groundbreaking procedure was performed on a brain-dead patient who was kept alive on a ventilator.

According to the surgeons, the pig used was genetically engineered to grow an organ that wouldn’t produce a sugar that the human immune system attacks, which would then trigger the body to reject the kidney. 

The organ was connected to blood vessels on the patient’s upper leg, outside the abdomen, and it was observed for over 54 hours, with doctors finding no signs of rejection.

Concerns and Hurdles Ahead

While the procedure was successful, this doesn’t mean it’ll be available to patients anytime soon. Several questions about long-term functionality remain, and it will still have to go through significant medical and regulatory hurdles. 

Details of the procedure haven’t even been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal yet, though there are plans for this. 

Experts are also considering the ethical implications of this type of animal-to-human transplant. For some, raising pigs to harvest their organs raises concerns about animal welfare and exploitation. Such medical procedures have already earned criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

“Pigs aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants,” PETA said in a statement, according to The New York Times.

On the other side of the debate are people like Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of the N.Y.U. Langone Transplant Institute who performed the breakthrough procedure in September.

“I certainly understand the concern and what I would say is that currently about 40% of patients who are waiting for a transplant die before they receive one,” he told BBC.

“We use pigs as a source of food, we use pigs for medicinal uses – for valves, for medication. I think it’s not that different.”

See what others are saying: (CNN)(BBC) (The New York Times)

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