Photo of girls using Taco Bell WiFi becomes symbol of digital divide

The digital divide is framed perfectly in a viral picture posted on Instagram. 

The image shows two girls sitting outside a Salinas Taco Bell. 

The pair walked to the restaurant and used the WiFi to complete school work on laptops, apparently because the girls didn’t have an adequate Internet connection at home. 

"We must do better and solve this digital divide once and for all for all California students," tweeted Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo.

The lack of Internet access during a time of distance learning creates enormous obstacle for students. 

“It’s critical because these days, education for most students is on-line,” said Connect Safely CEO Larry Magid.

Officials with the Salinas City Elementary School District declined to identify the children. They acknowledged that one is a first grader at Sherwood Elementary, and the other is a sixth grader at Los Padres.

In an emailed statement, the president of the school district's board Amy Ish said in part, “We…have provided the family with a hotspot so that our students can safely access classroom instruction from home."

She added that "the digital divide is very real.”

Officials said the state has approved 2,500 additional hotspots for students in need, to supplement the 1,500 that have already been distributed. Additionally, the district has handed out more than 8,200 Chromebooks.

But those same officials concede connection dead spots in the city are a problem.

“We need to beef up our support for people, because the internet is no longer an option," said Magid. "It’s an essential part of work and education."

Education experts said the result can be some students who miss out on some virtual instruction.

“The class does carry on. Because that class session is scheduled for just that one hour. And after that hour has passed, that class won’t get to meet again for possibly two more days,” said Tammy Cabrera, a middle school teacher in the Sacramento-area.

She said asynchronous learning mitigates the impact, since some material is designed to be completed off-line.

“As an educator, our job is to be responsive, in the end,” said Cabrera.

School district officials say the girls and their parents appear to have moved to better surroundings.