Alachua County Public Schools launches free School Bus WiFi program for remote learning

To support students whose families do not have internet access, Alachua County Public Schools is launching School Bus WiFi, a free program that will send school buses equipped with ‘hot spots’ into local communities.

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“We know so many of our students and their families don’t have internet access either because of the cost or they live in an area that cable and other providers don’t reach,” said Superintendent Karen Clarke. “This service will allow more of them to do their remote learning online while schools are closed because of COVID-19.”

Beginning Monday, April 20, School Bus WiFi will be available at 45 sites throughout Alachua County for three hours every weekday. Students within approximately 150-200 feet of the bus, either at home or in a vehicle, will be able to access the network ‘school bus wifi’ for free. Students and their families are reminded to maintain social distance when accessing the program. No supervision will be provided, and children should not be left unattended at the sites.

A password will not be needed when the School Bus WiFi is rolled out, but the district is requesting that people limit the use of the network for distance learning.

“We recognize that it will be tempting for others to want to use it for other reasons, but like any network, there’s a limit to how many devices it can accommodate at any one time,” said Jackie Johnson, the district’s Director of Communication. “We’d hate to have students who can’t use it for school work because people are accessing it for other things.” 

To select sites, the district had the support of DRMP, Inc., a multi-disciplinary firm that helps public and private organizations plan and develop infrastructure. Typically DRMP works with Alachua County on its facilities program, and for this project DRMP staff gave their time to research and create a list of sites based on student populations within neighborhoods, family income, home values, availability of parking and other factors.

“When the school district approached us about this project, we knew we could make a difference,” said DRMP’s Kelly Marton, GISP. “Accessing WiFi is a hurdle for many students in the country and around the state, and being able to apply a solution to give them some normalcy is meaningful.”

While the district’s information technology and transportation departments have been working on the installation and testing of the hot spot equipment, staff from the district’s Communications and Equity department have spent the last week arranging the host sites for the hot spots, which has been more of a challenge due to the county’s stay-at-home orders. 

It’s possible more sites will be added, and the district will be monitoring log-ins at each site to determine if any need to be adjusted for maximum impact.

 A complete list of sites and a schedule is available on the district’s website at https://bit.ly/3bkfkAT. Families can also check the district’s COVID-19 page at www.sbac.edu. Information is being sent home to all families through email, phone and text messages. 

The district has already given out more than 2800 devices to local families. Those who still need a device should contact their child’s school directly. Families may also still contact their child’s school for hard copy packets of school work if they prefer.                                                                                                  

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