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New York sued over homeless shelters' Internet gap for remote school

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Homeless families and legal advocates sued New York City on Tuesday, claiming a gap in reliable Internet service to 27 homeless shelters where thousands of students were struggling with remote schooling during the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a news conference in Brooklyn in New York City, New York, U.S., September 2, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/Pool/File Photo

The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan Federal Court a month after Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wi-Fi would be installed in all shelters with school-aged children.

The lawsuit denounced his plan as vague and instead demanded a Jan. 4, 2021 deadline for online connectivity. That will be the first day of class for New York City Public Schools after the winter holiday break in the biggest U.S. school district, with roughly 1.1 million students.

“We just filed a class action lawsuit against the de Blasio Administration for its failure to provide students who reside in City shelters access to reliable internet service so they can attend school remotely,” the Legal Aid Society said on Twitter.

Grant Mainland, a lawyer with Milbank LLP, which joined the lawsuit on behalf of the Coalition for the Homeless as well as individual shelter residents and their children, said city delays were threatening to write off the 2020-2021 school year for New York’s most vulnerable children.

“Homeless children’s lack of access to the virtual classroom has been on the city’s radar since the start of the pandemic, yet these children are hardly better off than they were in March,” Mainland said in a statement, referring to the late winter, when New York was the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time, Mayor de Blasio on Tuesday announced the settlement of another lawsuit that will require Verizon to build out its footprint to reach an additional 500,000 households in New York City, prioritizing the least-connected community districts and ensuring connectivity for every public housing resident in a New York City Housing Authority building.

“We’ve had a digital divide, we’ve had huge disparity of who gets access to internet (and) who doesn’t,” de Blasio told reporters on Tuesday. “But more and more we understand that we have to create a society in which everyone has equal access.”

The city’s lawyer, Corporation Counsel James Johnson, said in a statement any student who needs access to an online class knows how vital Internet access is on a daily basis.

“We resolved this case so that more New Yorkers will have access to a vital tool. The pandemic has underscored this critical need. This resolution could not be more timely,” Johnson said.

Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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