Why equitable communications access should be your top priority in 2022

Even in the age of technology, many underserved and disadvantaged families have limited access to resources like computers and a reliable internet connection.
By: | January 18, 2022

Melissa Vazquez is vice president of client success at K12 Insight.

Many families don’t receive the important information they need about their child’s education because of inequitable barriers to communication. In 2022, it is critical that school districts finally tackle this concerning problem.

Even in the age of technology, many underserved and disadvantaged families have limited access to resources like computers and a reliable internet connection. Some families may only have access to a smartphone web browser and text messaging. Between today’s scattered communication environment and information overload, even reaching families with reliable access can be a challenge.

A 2014 study found Black and Latino adults who were less engaged with schools tend to send or receive texts more than white adults because they rely more on their phones versus computers for information and communication. In fact, according to Ed-Trust West, 50% of low income and 42% of families of color cited they do not have sufficient access to devices to access distance learning.

In the coming year, school districts must make it a top priority to eliminate the communications barriers that fuel inequities in our communities. This includes providing multiple avenues of communications — text messaging, email, voice messaging systems, online resources, and chatbots — for families, students, teachers, and staff.

The Providence Public School District in Rhode Island is a shining example of a district that has gone above and beyond to make equitable communications access a priority. PPSD has 22,000 students, with 35% being multilingual learners. Approximately 55% of the students in the district come from homes where English is not the primary language used.

PPSD is navigating communications within its diverse community — where 75 different languages are spoken and families hail from 91 countries — using K12 Insight’s Let’s Talk! platform. Let’s Talk! allows for two-way communication and can be accessed via text messaging, email, mobile app, and the web in multiple languages.

Let’s Talk! ensures all families have access to the information and support they need by giving the PPSD community an equitable, convenient way to ask questions, report concerns, and provide feedback 24-7 from any device, regardless of their preferred method of communication or level of technology access.

Language fluency can pose serious challenges for families and school staff. Many school districts lack translation technology or multilingual staff, which prevents information and services from reaching the families who need support most.

PPSD provides Let’s Talk! translation in Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Khmer, and Swahili. PPSD was also the first school in New England to launch Let’s Talk! Assistant — the first chatbot built specifically for K-12 school districts — in both English and Spanish.

These efforts by PPSD demonstrate cultural competency, improve two-way communications between the district and its stakeholders, and help the district provide more equitable access to services and resources.

As your school district works toward equitable communications access in 2022, it’s critical to take three actions:

  1. Provide avenues for families to receive information in the way that works best for them. When districts use their families’ preferred communication channels, it gives stakeholders the opportunity to share feedback, ask questions, and receive equitable access to services and resources.
  2. Make it easy and straightforward for families to get in touch with districts. Rather than scouring a website to find the email address for the right person, give families an easy access point to get answers to their questions and concerns from any device.
  3. Make communications more accessible to multilingual families. This will help eliminate barriers and improve equity — especially among underserved and disadvantaged families in your district.

Equitable communications access should be one of the most important priorities for school district leaders in 2022. While it’s a large undertaking, it can have indelible impacts on school district and student success by increasing engagement, building relationships across your community, improving customer satisfaction, and, over time, creating an environment where everyone feels welcomed and heard.

Melissa Vazquez, the Vice President of Client Success at K12 Insight, is a former educator with 20 years of leadership experience in K-12 education and technology. Vazquez has a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and Multiple Subject Teaching Credentials from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, and a master’s degree from the University of La Verne, as well as Literacy Specialist and Administrative Services credentials.

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