The decision to start the school year virtually makes it even more imperative for all families in Athens to have internet access. The school board recently approved the purchase of digital devices for kindergarteners and first- and second-graders (other grades already have them), but there is no guarantee that the recipients will be able to go online.
The SPLOST package voters approved in November includes $6.5 million for broadband connectivity. But that project is four or five years away from completion, Travis Cooper, director of information technology for Athens-Clarke County, told the school board’s Government Operations Committee last week. So county and school district officials are looking for creative ways to meet the need. “As we look at what school is going to look like in the coming year, the need for internet has become a bit more timely,” said Lawrence Harris, executive director of community engagement and strategic partnerships for CCSD.
Cooper said that right now ACC is focusing on boosting Wi-Fi at county facilities, starting with Lay Park and the Rocksprings community center. “If folks want to go to Lay Park and sit in the parking lot and do their homework, they’ll have good coverage,” he said. Mayor Kelly Girtz said he would look at “comfortable” areas with pavilions and seating, such as Bishop Park.
“The more locations we have, the less people are congregating,” Harris said. Ideally, people would stay in their vehicles for safety, he said, but as board member Tawana Mattox pointed out, not everyone has a car, nor do they live within walking distance of a park or a school—particularly families in rural areas like Danielsville Road. “Rural parts of the county are really feeling forgotten about a lot of times when it comes to investment,” said another board member, Antwon Stephens.
Schools also have Wi-Fi, but it varies how far the signal extends outside the school, said CCSD’s IT director, Taylor Duke. The district recently received eight mobile hotspots from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency that could be placed on buses parked in neighborhoods or church parking lots. Wi-Fi on buses “is very feasible financially and quick and easy to do… you can move the buses wherever they need to be where there’s the most need,” Duke said. Up to 150 devices can use a hotspot at one time.
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