COLUMBUS (WCMH) — It won’t be long before students head back to school, and while it is the height of summer, some school districts are certainly feeling the heat trying to come up with plans.
No one plan is going to be sufficient this year, it seems, as many school districts are coming up with several to fit the ever-changing landscape that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing.
This nearly constant disruption of normalcy has some schools looking at a hybrid model of some in-classroom face-to-face learning while alternating with online instruction as well. Many back-up plans call for educating students fully online, if needed.
This reliance on the internet has become an easy alternative. However, even in 2020 central Ohio, not everyone has easy access to internet service.
Districts across the state are coming up with solutions to this problem, and there are more than one. Almost all of the solutions started with a survey of parents to determine what the situation was like in their district.
In Circleville, 75 percent of parents surveyed indicated they had high-speed internet available in their homes; another 15 percent said they had internet, but it was slow; another 5 percent said they use phones to access the internet; and the last 5 percent indicated they had no way of accessing the internet at all.
Groveport Madison Schools also conducted a survey, right around the time universities began moving to an online class setting earlier this year. They found that 98 percent of their students’ families could access the internet, but 2 percent could not.
At Groveport, that 2 percent is 110 students, so the district decided to take the personal route, while Circleville went with a more wide-spread solution.
Groveport Madison purchased 110 mobile wi-fi hotspots and had the students who needed them check them out free of charge. This got the kids online, but it cost the district $40 per hotspot per month, or $4,400 per month.
“Yeah, it doesn’t sound that bad,” said Garilee Ogden, Groveport Madison Schools superintendent. “However, with the budget reductions that we have had to implement due to some of the state budget reductions, also as a result of coronavirus, that does add up over time. We were able to successfully accommodate our students last spring and obviously would do everything we could this fall, but you know that was just a few weeks. If you take that amount for a whole school year, that might push us beyond what we are budgeting for. However, I also think the cost implications of being open are substantially more.”
As for Circleville, the distict is planning to extend its wi-fi access to the parking lot of the high school and use wi-fi extenders in five strategic locations around the city to reach the students that need access to the internet. The district also have less than half the total number of students as Groveport Madison Schools.
Each district is trying to figure out how to best serve their students and their communities, so each district is likely to come up with different solutions, and those solutions may have to be flexible.
“For us, it was reasonable assuming that we don’t get more new students that need internet access,” said Ogden when discussing the decision to go with the mobile hotspots at the end of last school year.
“We know that unemployment rates are up, families are not able to provide or have some of those luxuries that typically they would,” Ogden continued. “Feeding their children and keeping their kids safe might be a priority, obviously, over the internet.”
That could lead to a significant rise in need for the mobile hotspots, and if that happens, there is a question of whether the district could sustain the use for an entire year.
That use, however, has to be weighed against the responsibility the schools have to student wellness and access the district has put toward wellness.
“This is about supporting the whole child right now, with the stresses of COVID-19, also the racial issues that many of our students are dealing with and we are working to make sure that we’re addressing that, and being aware of those needs for our children as well, so we’ve got to make sure that whatever way we do end up having school, that we have a complete support system in place for our kids,” said Ogden.