Student Opinion: The Difficulty of Online Learning During NorCal’s Power Outages


By Michelle Moreno Lira

This week, NorCal residents experienced heavy rainfall and strong gusts of winds that brought many power outages for different neighborhoods such as Yolo County and Sacramento. Some Davis residents have been without power since Wednesday night. While many students depend on stable internet connection for their education, those without sufficient resources have to adapt to new conditions.

Although NorCal has seen harsh weather conditions over the past years, it’s more damaging during a year when having electricity is vital for many. Individuals have been working from home since March of last year and a shift into online learning has made many dependent on the internet. 

Sources from KTLA claim that tens of thousands of utility customers lost power throughout the San Francisco and Sacramento areas. With cold temperatures and business restrictions, students have no other choice but to fall behind on schoolwork due to power outages and unstable internet connections. 

Despite the weather conditions worsening, students have been forced to adapt to a new online learning system that doesn’t include underprivileged students. According to, data taken from the Household Pulse Survey showed that 4.4 million students had unreliable access to a computer while 3.7 million lacked stable internet access

While I understand that a power outage affects everyone’s daily lives, it’s more damaging to an underprivileged student’s education. According to Forbes, disadvantaged African-American, Hispanic, rural area residents and low-income students are disproportionately affected by online learning. Unprecedented conditions such as power outages during online education make it almost impossible for disadvantaged students to gain equal access. 

As someone from a low-income, predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, I understand the disparities that students face regularly. School closures have prevented students from getting daily meals and forced them to adapt to an online learning environment where they must seek stable internet access and, as such, electricity. 

While the weather worsens in NorCal, weather analysts say this was caused by a potent atmospheric river weather system that swept in from the Pacific Ocean into certain parts of NorCal. Conditions like these make it difficult for underprivileged students to maintain their education and keep up with the rest of the students who may have access to a stable internet, electricity, learning tools or healthy learning environments. 

The divide between privileged and underprivileged students has become more apparent during online education. According to Vox, this is classified as a ‘digital divide’ between low-income students who are unable to afford hotspots or technological devices for school. 

Depending on their situations, many students relied on the school as a stable environment. For these students, it makes it almost impossible to adapt to online learning during harsh weather conditions. 

Educational inequality has been a problem in America for years. Most Black and Hispanic students don’t have the same opportunity at an equal education compared to a majority of white students. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the high school graduation rate in 2017-18 varied between race. For Black students, the percentage was 79 percent, 81 percent for Hispanic and 89 percent for white students.

While I understand some white communities are also underprivileged, Black and Hispanic students remain at the bottom of the education system. 

This data is alarming because it’s challenging to provide yourself with sufficient resources to continue a successful education. Students of color face many obstacles that hinder their education. Thus, they’re forced to find solutions to remain on track.

As harsh weather conditions continue in NorCal, students must navigate through an online system dependent on electricity access. None more so affected than our own UC Davis students themselves who have sought extensions on deadlines and have been forced to study on campus. 

Many students were complaining on social media that they’ve been forced to throw out food since they don’t have a working refrigerator to keep their food perishable. College students are already financially struggling after losing stable incomes and unprecedented expenses. 

On-campus programs have provided resources such as the Pantry, need-based grants and food vouchers for students in need. Davis students will continue to adapt to new learning environments as the pandemic continues.

Michelle Moreno is a fourth-year majoring in English and minoring in Chicano Studies. She is from Downtown Los Angeles.

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    1. Keith Olsen

      Sheet happens, deal with it.  I’m not crying about it.  Everyone has been dealing with a lot of different things in this time of COVID.   Having low battery life to your phone and computer and not having access to the Internet for a day or two isn’t that big of a problem in the whole scheme of things.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Like what?  Reparations?

          You seem not to realize this is not about you… and as to others, do you understand what 3 days is compared to a year, and schools had no ‘distance learning’ for weeks, months?

          Please stop whining about how government, utilities, etc. are failing you, yours, and others, in having a ‘perfect’ life… society does not owe that to anyone… a life lesson…

          As another wrote “stuff happens”… last time storms (not under govt, utility control) caused this level of ‘carnage’ was 10 years ago…

          At a minimum, have some cheese and bread/crackers with your whine…


      1. David Greenwald

        “Everyone has been dealing with a lot of different things in this time of COVID. ”

        Well some people have to wait an extra day to make their stock trade, while other people have business and school on the line. Not exactly an equivalent situation.

        1. Ron Oertel

          I see that you finally got your intended fish to “bite”.  🙂

          Why do I feel like this article is “deja vu”?

          And yet somehow – the Vanguard survives, and kids will too.

          The only significant threat to businesses across California is Covid (and the resulting lockdowns). Or, have you not noticed the concerns regarding that – to the point of a possible recall of the Governor? Those are the people/business owners who are hurting (and no – it’s not really based on political views for the most part). Fortunately, we appear to be nearing the end of it.

          You’re lucky that you have an Internet business in the first place. As you previously noted, your business has actually grown during this period.

          1. David Greenwald

            I was appalled at Keith’s comment yesterday – really, he compares being a day trader on the internet to having to run a business or go to school? That’s just…

            On the deja vu… I play absolutely no role in the student articles. Besides this gives you a sense for what students had to deal with, mine was written from the perspective of a business owner and parent.

        2. Keith Olsen

          I was appalled at Keith’s comment yesterday – really, he compares being a day trader on the internet to having to run a business 

          I am appalled that you are appalled.

          So are you saying someone’s job of trading securities is less important than some small city blog?

          1. David Greenwald

            No, I’m saying that being inconvenienced for something you admittedly only need every few days is not comparable to businesses and students who rely on connectivity daily for multiple hours at high speeds.

          1. David Greenwald

            It’s your exact words: “I trade stocks so the Internet is important to me. I can deal with the inconvenience of a cutoff for a day or two.”

        3. Keith Olsen

          How does saying “I can deal with the inconvenience of a cutoff for a day or two” mean that I don’t need something?  It means I can deal with it and at the same time not cry about it like some others.

          1. David Greenwald

            You can deal with it because it doesn’t actually impact you like it does for others and you apparently can’t acknowledge the difference between needing something every few days and needing something more often in order to do your business or attend school.

        4. Alan Miller

          That’s just what?  LMAO

          He’s speechless . . .

          I am appalled that you are appalled.

          O  . . . M . . . G  –  I was literally going to make the exact same response, word for word.  You scare me sometimes, KO.

          I’m not sure what you DG are so upset about . . . I think KO is pulling your chain because you are so “appalled”.  What I took his comment to mean was that natural disasters effect everyone, and in something like power outages it’s rather random who gets hit, but there’s not much you can do about except deal with it as best you can.

          It was a major inconvenience for me for my situation (which I won’t describe lest ye  judge it).  I got creative and lessened the hurt a bit.  I’m not a blogger, a student nor a day trader.  On the next block, power was on – no fairness, no discrimination, just sheer d*mn luck.


  1. Alan Miller

    Although NorCal has seen harsh weather conditions over the past years, it’s more damaging during a year when having electricity is vital for many.

    Please list the years when having electricity was not vital for many:   [Here]

    I honestly don’t understand this article.  There are statements about race issues such as, “The divide between privileged and underprivileged students has become more apparent during online education.”  That may be true.   Then statements about the storm like, “Many students were complaining on social media that they’ve been forced to throw out food since they don’t have a working refrigerator to keep their food perishable.”  That probably happened.  Is the conclusion that only underprivileged students had their refrigerator go out so long they had to throw their food out?

    From looking at the outage maps, lots of relatively wealthy areas had their power out for extended periods, and I know areas where people’s fridge’s warmed up — people who probably wouldn’t be considered underprivileged.  This felt to me like the race issues are a handful of rice in one hand, and the storm issues are a handful of mud in the other hand, and we clap our hands together and exclaim, “Rice Mud!”  I don’t understand the point of Rice Mud.

      1. Alan Miller

        No, racial issues were just the rice in my messy metaphor.  My point is that I am more and more seeing articles written — not just in the DV — about racial issues, which is fine, but then spliced into an article about someone else — as if there’s a connection.

        Here is a fun way to make my point.  Someone told me that if you go to Google, and type in “X is racist”, and type in ANYTHING, you will get a hit.  I tried it for for about 10 minutes, and no matter how hard I tried and how many times I said, “There’s not a chance in H-E-double-L that this is going to be tied to racism” – and yet it was.

        Try it, for endless hours of fun.  And if you come up with anything that someone hasn’t tied to racism, please let us know!

        1. Alan Miller

          Most white people do not see embedded racism – many people of color do. Always look at who the author is.

          I’m not saying there isn’t racism, clearly there is.  I’m not saying people-not-of-color are capable of experiencing what people-of-color experience, clearly one cannot walk in another’s shoes.

          If PG&E had clearly dis-invested in the power infrastructure in communities of color, that would be an issue of racial discrimination – big time.  Having no ability to connect to the internet, having no heat, having no refrigeration — after a day or so those are pretty devastating no matter who you are.  Can’t we see this as a shared experience and not paint this with the brush of race?

    1. Bill Marshall

      Actually, the only folk that electricity and/or water supply are “vital to”, are those with home dialysis, other medical equipment…

      David, as a true valley, coast kid doesn’t seem to understand about “snow days”, ice storms, etc. that ‘disrupt’ folks ‘precious’ life/convenience… and probably did not have immediate family lives much more seriously interrupted by vent like Loma Prieta… guess it was PG&E’s, internet providers’ fault (pun intended) that folk were without power, light, phone for much longer than 2.8 days…

      Some folk just believe that Govt, big business, utilities cover every contingency of life, so that they don’t have the ‘tragic’ misfortune of inconvenience…

      Oh, almost forgot… all misfortunes are inherently racist…

      1. Alan Miller

        I do think it’s fare to say a good generator is out of the price range of most students, and running a generator in an apartment complex would annoy the neighbors!

  2. Bill Marshall

    Parts of the article, and the comments of certain posters, remind me of, “I Want it All, and I Want it Now” (Queen)… where as I come more from a  view, “You Don’t Always Get What you Want, but if you Try Some Time, you Might Just get What you Need…” (Rolling Stones)…

    1. Bill Marshall

      Of course, some folk think every want is a need… for those that do, we’ll just agree to disagree… I saw nothing, or maybe minicule, about trying to do something, just whining… if someone has a concrete proposal for change, that is practical, effective, and cost-effective, I am more than willing to listen… and, perhaps support in action…

      1. Bill Marshall

        I see your point… perhaps you could report my comment and it could go bye-bye… I suspect it will, for other reasons entirely… but between the two articles, am still thinking of donating cheese and bread to go with those… but, obviously, no brown sugar…

        The song is 50years old…

        1. Alan Miller

          The issue is the song is played today, including on the Stones last tour, with reported 10,000’s of thousands of white people singing along.  I’m not reporting your comment, just bringing up the issue.  I’m all about discussion, not banning or reporting – sans blatant, baseless personal attacks.

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