- 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.”
After Uvalde, Politicians, Public Figures, Gun Violence Survivors, and More Call For Change
“When are we going to do something?” Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr asked during an emotional plea at a press conference.
Uvalde Shooting Kills 21 People
Democratic politicians, activists, and many others are calling for gun reform in the United States after 19 children and two teachers were killed in a Tuesday shooting at Robb Hill Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The 18-year-old suspected gunman was reportedly killed by officers. The massacre marks the 27th school shooting of 2022, according to Education Week.
It also comes just a week and a half after 10 people were killed in a shooting in Buffalo, New York, and another shooting in a Southern California church left one person dead and several others injured.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) spoke fervently on the Senate floor Tuesday, slamming his colleagues for refusing to pass gun control legislation that could prevent future shootings.
“What are we doing?” he asked of his fellow lawmakers. “Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate? Why do you through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority, if your answer is, as the slaughter increases, as kids run for their lives, we do nothing? What are we doing?
“Why are you here if not to solve a problem as existential as this?” he continued. “This isn’t inevitable. These kids weren’t unlucky. This only happens in this country.”
“And it is a choice. It is our choice.”
President Joe Biden likewise urged action by supporting the now-expired assault weapons ban.
“We can do more. We must do more,” he added.
Public Figures And Shooting Survivors Speak Out
The demands for change spread far past political figures. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr took time out of a pre-game press conference to passionately plead for common-sense gun control. He specifically called on Senators to vote on H.R. 8, a background check bill previously passed in the House.
“When are we going to do something?” Kerr asked while slamming his hands on the table.
“I ask you, Mitch McConnell, I ask all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and school shootings and supermarket shootings. I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers?” Kerr continued. “Because that’s what it looks like.”
He went on to say that Americans, who largely support background checks, are “being held hostage by 50 Senators who refuse to even put it to a vote.”
Grammy Award-winning musician Taylor Swift shared his message, adding that she is filled with “rage and grief” not just from the shootings, but by “the ways in which we, as a nation, have become conditioned to unfathomable and unbearable heartbreak.”
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” tweeted David Hogg, an activist and survivor of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. “The way we will make this time different is by Americans on both sides of the aisle collaborating on what we can agree on to get something done even if small. Kids are dying we have to do something.”
Manuel Oliver, the father of one of the children lost in the Parkland shooting, slammed the inaction of politicians in an interview on CBS News.
“The families don’t need your freaking hearts,” Oliver said. “They need their kids, and the kids are not there anymore. So I feel very angry and offended and I just don’t understand how come a whole society doesn’t wake up.”
People impacted by the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting also spoke out, including Mary Ann Jacob, who worked as a librarian at the school during the shooting.
“I’m so sorry those deaths did not change our world,” Jacob wrote.
Texas-based figures felt especially compelled to stand up as the tragedy hit so close to home. Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey, whose hometown is Uvalde, wrote a message on social media asking Americans to “take a longer and deeper look in the mirror and ask ourselves, ‘What is it that we truly value?’”
“We have tragically proven that we are failing to be responsible for the rights our freedoms grant us,” McConaughey wrote.
“Action must be taken so that no parent has to experience what the parents in Uvalde and the others before them have endured.”
Fellow Texas native Selena Gomez also took to social media to argue for action.
“If children aren’t safe at school where are they safe? It’s so frustrating and I’m not sure what to say anymore,” the “Only Murders in the Building” star wrote on her Instagram story. “Those in power need to stop giving lip service and actually change the laws to prevent these shootings in the future.”
We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.
Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices
A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.
As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits
American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.
In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers.
To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.
But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.
ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above — earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.
“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.
Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.
Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices
To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.
In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.”
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.
The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.
During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.
“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”
“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.