As many schools across the U.S. transition to online learning due to closures brought about by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), some districts are using Wi-Fi equipped school buses to ensure students have internet access.
In South Carolina, the State Department of Education (SCDE) is placing Wi-Fi-enabled school buses or mobile hotspots in various school districts across the state, according to Virgie Chambers, the deputy superintendent for the SCDE’s division of district operations and support. Chambers announced the initiative on Monday in a letter sent to school district superintendents and transportation directors.
Chambers noted in the letter that the school buses would also be used to deliver meals and instructional materials to students, and that priority will be given to rural and other geographic locations where the percentage of students who receive free and reduced-price meals is 50% or greater.
In addition, Chambers said that the bus’s Wi-Fi connectivity will be activated and available for internet use during a limited time period during the day (for example, from 8:30 a.m. until noon). She also pointed out that mechanics will need time to recharge the bus’s batteries so that the vehicles can be used the next day.
Ryan Brown, the chief communication officer for the SCDE, told WCIV that a total of 3,000 school buses will be used for the initiative and that school districts would need to submit requests for the Wi-Fi-enabled buses, and then prioritize where to place them. He also said that students will not need to sit directly on the bus to utilize the Wi-Fi, and that the mobile connection will work as long as students are a "reasonable distance" away.
Meanwhile, in Delta, Utah, Millard School District is also putting its Wi-Fi equipped buses to use during the Coronavirus shutdown.
David Styler, the superintendent for Millard School District, told KUER that the district will park 10 of its 12 Wi-Fi-enabled buses in rural communities around the district to allow students remote access. Similar to the SCDE’s plan, Millard School District’s buses would be parked in the locations from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., according to KUER.
Styler added that about 14% of homes in his district don’t have internet access. He also said that additional buses would be used to deliver lunches to those communities.
Additionally, neighboring Juab School District in Nephi, Utah, is looking into contracting with a local internet provider to outfit the district’s buses with Wi-Fi, KUER reports. Rick Robins, the district’s superintendent, told the news source that the district would first need to survey parents to see how many students need internet access. Robins added that implementing mobile connectivity is a “smart solution” and that his “greatest concern right now is to help our students understand that we will be OK and learning will continue.”