Even with WiFi hotspots, the digital divide among W. Va. students impacts back to school plans

Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 10:47 PM EDT
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GRANT COUNTY, W. Va. (WHSV) - West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced WiFi hotspots will be set up across the Mountain State so that students can have the option for virtual learning next month.

A huge factor West Virginia schools had to consider when making back to school plans was the large digital divide students face, which impacts about half the students in two local counties.

Superintendents from both Grant County Schools and Pendleton County Schools said less than 50 percent of students have access to internet connection.

GCS Superintendent Douglas Lambert said often times, this connection still isn’t strong enough for students to download and submit their school work or watch instructional videos from home.

This coming school year, GCS and PCS both plan to have in-person instruction for students four and a half days a week, Wednesday being a half-day that will be used to thoroughly clean school facilities.

Back-up plans for both divisions include a hybrid model where students would attend on a rotating A/B schedule. The last option being remote learning for all students.

Lambert said GCS already has WiFi hotspots set up at all school locations that students can access from the parking lots and they plan to add six more near local buildings.

The next issue for students is transportation to these hotspots.

“You have a transportation issue of how are the kids going to get there when you have a 400 square mile county. I think we’re the eighth more sparsely populated county, as far as students per square mile,” Lambert said. “It’s just for tough for our kids and our parents to access these hotspots.”

Governor Justice has committed $6 million to install more than 1,000 WiFi hotspots throughout the state at schools, libraries and state parks.

“We will absolutely deliver a quality education to them for the time period that they decide not to come to the school,” Justice said.

All West Virginia schools plan to return on Sept. 8.

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