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Millions of Americans don't have internet, now they need it to go back to school

Before considering virtual school you need to have access to the internet. We asked Tampa Bay schools how they plan to help families who need it.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — If you have reliable internet, the digital divide is something you probably don't think thought about. The FCC says 19 million Americans don't have internet. We asked school districts around Tampa Bay what they are doing to help bridge the gap.

POLK

How confident is the district that all students will have access to computers in the upcoming school year? What about internet access?

"We are working diligently to make sure that we have enough devices for all learners. We have also ordered MiFi devices and bus routers to support internet access."

How many students (roughly) do not have internet access at home? How many will need a device for digital learning?

"The best data that we have is about 30 percent may not have a device. That is based on the number of active parent portal accounts, the 23,000 devices that we distributed in the fourth quarter and the number of families responding to the survey."

How will the district help with these needs? Will WiFi hot spots be available and how much will it cost the district to have these in place/order more?

"We have 500 mifi’s and 50 buses outfitted with cellular wifi access. We may order more once we see the number of families choosing distance learning."

PASCO

How confident is the district that all students will have access to computers in the upcoming school year?

"We are very confident. We were able to provide all the computers and devices that were need when all our students were learning online at the end of the school year. It will be a much smaller number in the fall because many have chosen to return to school."

What about internet access?

"That is more complicated. In the last few weeks of the school year, we provided hotspots and even set up hubs in school parking lots. However, some families still were unable to take advantage of that. That should be less of a problem going forward, once again, because many students are choosing to attend school in person."

How many students (roughly) do not have internet access at home? How many will need a device for digital learning?

"We are preparing to provide devices for more than 5,000 students who might be learning via the online options."

How will the district help with these needs? Will WiFi hot spots be available and how much will it cost the district to have these in place/order more?

"See earlier response. I don’t have a dollar amount for what we spent on hot spots or for hubs."

How many devices were distributed at the end of the last school year? How many were damaged or not returned and how is the district handling that with students?

"We provided 17,871 devices back in the spring. It is unclear at this time how many were not returned since many students in the extended school year (summer school) are still using devices that we loaned them."

MANATEE

The responses below were provided by Chief Technology Officer Scott Hansen

How confident is the district that all students will have access to computers in the upcoming school year?

"Students who do not have a computer device and choose eLearning Manatee will be issued a device from their enrolled school. Home internet will be necessary for online learning."

What about internet access?

"See above."

How many students (roughly) do not have internet access at home?

"We are finalizing these numbers for the 20-21 school year and this information is not available at this time. During the initial transition to the eLearning format SDMC had just under 1,000 requests for INTERNET access. We leveraged a combination of HOT SPOTS from multiple providers, BUS WIFI, community centers, SPECTRUM WI-FI, and encouraged families to contact their local INTERNET providers who were offering low cost INTERNET services."

How many will need a device for digital learning?

"See previous response."

How will the district help with these needs?

"The district will use a combination of the above listed items in the previous question with the exception of BUS-WI-FI as the priority for these vehicles will be to transport students to and from school. If the district was required to transition into 100% eLearning, BUS-WI-FI would be an option. At this time, Spectrum has not extended their free community WI-FI HOT SPOTS for the 20-21 school year."

Will WiFi hot spots be available and how much will it cost the district to have these in place/order more?

"The district has 500 plus HOT SPOTS that were previously ordered during the previous instructional year. The district is considering another potential order of HOT SPOTS for the 20-21 school year. If the district purchased another 1,000 HOT SPOTS the cost would be approximately $348,000 annually. This cost can vary based on the plan and providers selected."

SARASOTA

How confident is the district that all students will have access to computers in the upcoming school year? What about internet access?

"All students have device & internet access at school (in-person, option 1). Accessibility efforts will mainly be focused on families that may need assistance within option 2 (remote learning from district/choice school). In our recent parent/guardian survey, only 26 percent of families indicated they selected option 2 (we had 24,355 responses – our district has a little over 43,900 students)."

How many students (roughly) do not have internet access at home? How many will need a device for digital learning?

"Still TBD – we have not issued an updated survey on this since March (when all families had to go remote because of mandated closures)."

How will the district help with these needs? Will WiFi hot spots be available and how much will it cost the district to have these in place/order more?

"School administrators will attempt to work with families to provide students with what they need (devices and internet access). Ultimately, families will need to ensure they have access to the required resources to be successful in remote learning (option 2)."

PINELLAS

How confident is the district that all students will have access to computers in the upcoming school year? 

"Very confident."

 What about internet access?

"Very confident based on the need we saw during the Spring quarter."

How many students (roughly) do not have internet access at home?

"We will not know until the school year begins but based on the need in the spring very few students needed internet access and we were able to meet their need."

How many will need a device for digital learning?

"During the 4th quarter of the 2019-2020 school year PCS gave out 30-thousand computers/laptops/tablets to students and we were capable of providing more computers if needed. When the school year ended we had students keep the devices to continue online enrichment or take part in Summer Bridge and to continue using during the new school year. One of the lessons from the district-wide online learning was the importance of all students having access to a digital device for 100 percent student success. Earlier this summer the school board unanimously approved the Superintendent’s PCS Connects 1:1 initiative. The goal is for every PCS student to have a computer/laptop by 2023. The school board approved using $22 million from the CARES Act to buy 42,000 computers for 4th to 9th graders for this 2020-2021 school year. Each year more grade levels will be added. The district also purchased the CANVAS Learning Management System, it offers a curriculum that is student friendly and easy to use. CANVAS has a built in organizer and calendar that helps students keep track of classwork. Click here to learn more about MyPCS Online and Canvas. Students who choose MyPCS Online learning option will receive a computer if needed."

How will the district help with these needs? Will Wi-Fi hot spots be available and how much will it cost the district to have these in place/order more?

"During the spring (4th quarter) the school district purchased 1-thousand wi-fi hot spots to help families without internet access. The Pinellas Education Foundation secured a grant to pay for the monthly fee. PCS gave out 400 hotspot devices which students still have to use…we have 600 hotspots available."

HILLSBOROUGH

"We will not be able to accurately answer these questions until we know what method of instruction we will be returning to- and that won't happen by your deadline.

I can tell you that we gave out around 40,000 devices to our students during eLearning last semester. But there's no way to tell if some of them got computers since then, or who will need access because we aren't sure what percentage of them will be returning back to school just yet.

I think we can help much more after the board vote happens and we have a clear picture."

We are still waiting to hear back from Hernando and Citrus counties.

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