Internet & device woes: Local school systems face school reopening challenges

Keeping Schools Safe

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The start of the 2020-2021 school year will look completely different from any other back-to-school ever seen.

One challenge facing school systems across the country is a backlog of computer devices and internet access limitations in rural areas.

Local school districts told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that internet access will prove a great challenge in the upcoming school year.

“One of the issues for Sullivan County is – and it’s true for any county that has rural areas – is there’s not coverage everywhere,” said Sullivan County Director of Schools Dr. David Cox. “One of the things that we also purchased with our CARES money are hot spots that we will issue to our students and families. Where those could be of help, basically they operate off of a cell signal to provide internet access. Or the other thing that we’re doing is we’re equipping some of our buildings with wireless access points on the outside of the buildings so that people can drive up and get on our network with the appropriate credentials.”

Cox said the school system will take action for students with simply no other option, like “loading information and lessons on flash drives and giving those to students so they can actually do the work.”

The school system, like some others in the Tri-Cities region, will be offering alternatives to those who qualify.

“One of the things that we also purchased with our CARES money are hot spots that we will issue to our students and families. Where those could be of help, basically they operate off of a cell signal to provide internet access. Or the other thing that we’re doing is we’re equipping some of our buildings with wireless access points on the outside of the buildings so that people can drive up and get on our network with the appropriate credentials,” Cox explained.

Johnson City schools will also be providing to qualifying families, internet access at their homes.

“This is a MiFi device from a local carrier that will be sent home with the students,” Melony Surrett, Johnson City Schools Technology Director, told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

Carter County also faces the hurdle of some students not having internet access and are taking a different approach to getting learning material to students.

“If they do not have access to internet, we’ve already had those conversations with principals to get some print material out and get that ready to send home with students, that’s really the only option we have,” Tracy McAbee, Carter County Director of Schools, said.

When it comes to remote learning, internet woes aside, computer devices are the next big issue that many local school districts are scrambling to figure out.

“We are still evaluating our device needs,” Surrett said. “We are currently one-to-one in grades three through 12 so we are looking to see what we can do for our K through 2 learners.”

In Elizabethton, just like in many other school districts, the devices have been ordered, but just have not been delivered yet.

“The problem is technology. Every school system in America has been doing this so they’re backlogged on when those will be delivered. We’re being told it may be November,” Richard VanHuss, Director of Schools for Elizabethton City Schools said.

Sullivan County’s Cox said his district has orders still outstanding as well.

“We do have a number of devices and we will deploy them, as we did in the spring, along with some of the older devices that we have,” he said. “We think we’re going to be able to meet the needs of all of our students who actually need them, some students have their own devices.”

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