MIAMI (CBSMiami/CBS) — The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the deepening digital divide affecting students in America.  Analysis from the Pew Research Center shows nearly 25% of Hispanic children live in households without high-speed internet and 18% of Hispanic teenagers don’t have access to a home computer at all.

These are the challenges some students face with distance learning.

Miami teacher Alexandra Chace, who has been teaching at Santa Clara Elementary School in Miami for nearly 20 years, says shifting to online learning has been a challenge.

Her school is about 80% Hispanic.

“I would say about 60% are learning and 40% I’ve had– struggles with, calling the parents,” said Chace.

However, she does not have a problem reaching the three Hernandez brothers.

11-year-old Jose, 10-year-old Josue, and 8-year-old Angel log on to their virtual classes every day. But there are many other students who don’t.

Angel said they are missing out.

“Because if they don’t get on, they won’t be able to see their friends,” said the 8-year-old boy.

Marlen Calix says her eldest son Jose has helped her navigate the technological and language barriers.

Calix doesn’t speak English.

“It was frustrating because you don’t speak English and you don’t know how to use a computer,” said Marlen.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools have distributed more than 117,000 devices to students who needed them including one laptop to the Hernandez boys.

“I feel like I’m learning, but it’s at a slower pace,” explained Jose.

Chace says some families aren’t so lucky.

“In order to get the free (or the low-cost) internet that Comcast was providing, the parents or the students had to be a citizen. So, you had to put in your Social Security Number, or a government ID, and a lot of our families didn’t have that,” she said. “So the District did something where they were handing out hotspots.”

Comcast responded to CBSMiami.com explaining, “While the online application process does have a section for applicants to include a Social Security Number, you do not have to provide one to apply for the program. If an applicant does not have or want to share that form of ID, we can work with them to use another kind,” said Cindy Arco, a spokeswoman for Comcast.

Click here for more on accepted forms of identification for application to affordable internet at home from Comcast.

Arco also says Comcast does not inquire about, nor track or record, the immigration status for any customer and the company has not been asked to share any information related to immigration status with authorities.

“Now more than ever we understand that the Internet is a lifeline and we encourage everyone that is eligible and interested to sign up for Internet Essentials,” said Arco.

Hernandez brothers (CBS4)

One Hernandez brother studies on his school-issued laptop, the other on his family’s computer and that leaves 8-year-old Angel with a cell phone.

He says “it’s a bit hard,” doing homework on his dad’s phone.

For Chace, the problems with virtual learning extend beyond devices and connectivity.

“I feel like you can always catch up on your education, but safety? You can’t do anything if you’re not safe. The neighborhoods tend to be more violent, you know. I don’t know if they’re playing outside and there’s a fight or if the parents are essential workers.”

Experts say the coronavirus is expanding educational inequities that already existed and leaving the most vulnerable behind.

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