Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia will receive more than 4,000 new Wi-Fi hot spots for students participating in virtual learning.
The Board of County Supervisors used $1.2 million in CARES Act funding to buy 4,061 hot spots for students lacking reliable internet service. The newest supply will supplement the nearly 3,000 hot spots the school system has already purchased.
The new devices will be distributed at a time when the majority of the county’s students are still participating in virtual learning. Earlier this month, some kindergarten and first-graders transitioned back to in-person learning.
Under the current timeline, second and third-graders and some middle and high school students could return in January and February, respectively.
“PWCS is thankful for the continued support from Prince William County,” said Diana Gulotta, a county schools spokeswoman, in an email. “These hot spots will be used to assist additional families who may not have previously asked for support or for those who may be using other methods to access internet remotely.”
The new hot spots will be issued to students after winter break, Gulotta said. Title I schools and students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunch will be prioritized. About 42% of county students are economically disadvantaged, according to county data.
The internet devices, which will be serviced by Verizon and AT&T, are expected to arrive in the coming days, said Rob Mancini, the county’s chief information officer. They were purchased as part of the county’s new technology inclusion initiative.
“There’s a groundswell of equity and inclusion initiatives happening in this government, and the school system and the government working together on a project like this, that’s really kind of the fruits of labors we started a couple years ago, when we did some modernization work in the county and we involve the schools in it,” Mancini told WTOP.
“And so government and the school system, typically independent of one another, are finding really novel ways to work together to try to help the community.”
Each hot spot provides a year of free service and gives users the option to pay for continued service or return the device. The county will make some hot spots available at libraries for periodic use.
“[The hot spots] have demonstrated that they can give you pretty decent connectivity, certainly more than enough for a student to do their homework and to attend class,” Mancini said.
The hot spots could be particularly valuable to students in the northern and western rural portions of the county, the county’s chief information officer said.
In a statement, Prince William Education Association President Maggie Hansford said, “PWEA supports all of the county’s efforts to make virtual learning equitable and accessible to both students and staff.”
Connecting to the internet has been a challenge for some D.C. area students during the pandemic. In July, a survey revealed 44% of D.C. parents reported needing a device for their students to participate in online learning.
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