The Wi-Fi-equipped buses are funded through a $600,000 grant from a wireless provider
The Austin Independent School District in Texas has rolled out a school bus fleet of 110 wifi-enabled buses to deploy to neighborhoods and apartment buildings where home internet access is unlikely. This idea to help kids in the district comes after the announcement that the school buildings are closed indefinitely to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.
The buses are funded through a $600,000 grant from wireless provider Kajeet. Students can access the wifi from 8 a.m.-2 p.m., which are typical school hours for Austin ISD. They can use personal computers (not personal devices) to complete their schoolwork with the help of the bus wifi.
“Ideally we want [students] to be able to stay inside,” Kevin Schwartz, chief technology officer for AISD, said. “For some people they may need to come toward the bus.”
The district released a step-by-step guide for students and parents to access the wifi — in most cases, being within 300 feet of the buses should enable it to work. For bigger apartment complexes and neighborhoods, more than one bus will be deployed. Students are not allowed to board the bus, and should kids need to come outside for better access, everyone must maintain social distancing standards of six feet apart.
Schwartz says the district may adjust where it sends buses or how it addresses internet access as it learns more about the process in the coming weeks.
Many schools throughout the U.S. have announced plans to remain closed for the remainder of the school year to help stop the spread of the virus. Nineteen states so far have extended their mandated statewide school closures through the remainder of the school year. Several more are still weighing closure extensions and are expected to make announcements this week about how the duration of the 2019-2020 school year will look.
Though these closures are, undoubtedly, difficult to process for students, school staff, and parents alike — this decision allows for schools everywhere to determine additional distance-learning protocol and fine-tune any in-place processes should we all need to practice social distancing again in the future (which, honestly, we should all just prepare for until there is a widely available and successful vaccine).
In the meantime, we can look to school districts like Austin ISD to lead by example in ensuring all kids have access to the tools they need during this chaotic time.
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