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500 hot spots made available for county students

Buckingham County supervisors voted unanimously to use a portion of CARES Act money to purchase 500 Verizon hot spot devices in order to provide internet access to the county’s schoolchildren.

At the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday, Aug. 10, County Administrator Rebecca Carter addressed the board regarding Buckingham County Public Schools’ plans to hold the first nine weeks of classes virtually due to concerns regarding the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Carter said the school had advised that, according to a survey, approximately 400 Buckingham students do not have internet access, making at-home learning a challenge in the rural county. She added some families may not have responded to the survey, making the number of students without internet even larger.

According to Carter the county’s technology manager, Jamie Shumaker, spoke with a Verizon representative regarding how the county could help these students with little to no internet access. That’s when officials became aware of Verizon’s new Distance Learning Program for K-12 Public Schools.

Through the program, Buckingham will be able to purchase 500 hot spots that can be sent home with each child who does not have reliable internet. The device can connect internet to students’ school-provided Chromebooks. Students will not be able to access any other web pages or information from the internet using the hot spots unless allowed through the school portal.

The cost of the program, according to Carter, is $89,970 for six months. The cost cannot be guaranteed beyond six months unless the county is still under a declaration of emergency due to COVID-19 and Verizon continues the program.

Carter said officials are aware Verizon service is not great in all areas of the county, and Shumaker is speaking with other internet providers to see if they are also willing to participate in such a program. He is currently in correspondence with Sprint and T-Mobile.

She added officials are hoping this program will help as many students as possible, many of whom would otherwise have to go to bus stops or other locations and sit while they complete their school work.

The program, Carter added Monday night, can be implemented very quickly, within approximately 10 days of the board’s vote.