Dozens of millions of Americans don’t have access to regular internet, Wi-Fi, or broadband connection. This problem has never been more clear as schools across the country have closed, sometimes through the end of the calendar school year, due to the Coronavirus pandemic to keep consistent on social distancing guidelines. It also means that tons of American kids, and in particular, low-income kids who might not have access to the internet. As classrooms become Google Classrooms or Zoom meetings, kids who don’t have consistent access to the internet will fall further behind those who are privileged enough to have it.
And that’s why Austin Independent School District — the public school district that serves the greater Austin area — deployed over 100 WiFi connected school buses to neighborhoods that have been identified as high-need areas with limited wifi access. The buses WiFi extends up to 300 feet and will be positioned in the strategic placements every weekday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Kids can’t go on the bus, obviously, and might have to move a bit closer to it to get access to the internet while maintaining social distancing guidelines, but the buses are filling a critical need in the Austin-area, one that has been seen across the country not just in times of crisis but as a factor of everyday life. (14.5 million rural Americans do not have internet access in their homes.)
Austin students can only connect to the WiFi using their school computers and the company behind the buses, Kajeet, an education technology provider, plans on deploying most of their 500+ fleet of buses to help sure that students in need can complete their work and take part in their classes. The district also stepped up to provide kids from the 3rd to the 7th grade who don’t have computers with Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots.
These moves are all well and good — and if school districts plan on holding online school, they will need to step up to help the kids who need the most help. But perhaps, when all of this starts to calm down, American politicians can’t start looking at internet access for America’s students as what it really is: a necessity, not a privilege.