As nontraditional instruction begins for area public schools, the need for Wi-Fi for low-income and rural students has become paramount.

To this end, Daviess County Emergency Management Agency, Daviess Fiscal Court, Owensboro Public Schools and Daviess County Public Schools are working on multiple fronts to ensure students throughout Owensboro-Daviess County have the resources they need headed into the 2020-2021 school year.

On the government front, EMA and the court are working with area volunteer fire stations to install routers so that families can have access to Wi-Fi from the parking lot, said Andy Ball, EMA director.

“The goal here is to ensure that all Daviess County students have access to the internet,” he said. “We are looking to install a device that will transmit a signal outside of the building so families can pull into the parking lot and gain access to the assignments or information that the student needs. We will also be paying a bit extra to ensure that the roper firewalls are up so that we are in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act to ensure students can’t access harmful material. I am also asking that any businesses that would be interested in providing access via their internet contact EMA via our office or Facebook so that we could provide a list of to the school systems.”

The court, aside from its work with EMA and the volunteer stations, is also utilizing Geographic Information System (GIS) to pinpoint the areas with the most need to install Wi-Fi hotspots, said Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly.

“We have ConnectGRADD, but as we learned in March, no matter what service you have, if everyone in the household is using the internet at the same times, things will run slower,” he said. “We are going to be facing the same issues that we did in the spring. These programs are a way that we are thinking outside of the box, and we know that these students need access as soon as possible.”

While the cost isn’t known yet, the court hopes to have these access points up and running within the next month and hopes that, given the need of the community, a corporate partner will step up and aid in providing internet to the students of Owensboro-Daviess County, he said.

“As far as our part, we hope to have it up and running within the next month,” he said. “I have to give the credit to our Director of Legislative Services, David Smith. He came to me with the idea, and he ran with it. The students will need access as quickly as possible, and it would be nice as a result of this article if we were contacted by entities willing to partner with us to bring internet to these areas. Prior to COVID, people were able to get by, but the pandemic has shown us more than ever what a vital service internet access is. It is a band-aid right now as we address other issues that may arise through continued home schooling and lack of internet access.

On the schools’ level, OPS is in the process of establishing hotspots in certain locations for students to use, which be released in the days prior to school beginning, said Jared Revlett, OPS public information officer.

“Eight percent of our students don’t have access to the internet,” he said. “If a student already has a school device, then that device will be able to connect as they approach any of our schools. We are installing hotspots, and we have also managed to secure a handful of hotspots that can be plugged in at the home. We are prioritizing families that live in apartment complexes where other students may live so that we can maximize the reach of the access. We encourage families to reach out to the family resources coordinator at their schools, and we can work with them to get a hotspot.”

DCPS has launched a map on its website that highlights the hotspot locations at the district’s 18 schools. DCPS is also working with OPS to see if they can combine efforts to provide access to county students at city schools and vice versa, said Steve Burton, DCPS operations manager and co-CIO.

“We all share the same kind of network,” he said. “So, we are trying to figure out how we can have our students have access throughout both districts. Roughly 600 students in our district don’t have access. We have ensured that our virtual students have district equipment and are working toward fitting our middle and high school students with equipment but may have trouble with our elementary students. We were able to get some T-Mobile hotspots through Public Schools Foundation grant money, but we don’t have the resources to provide each student without internet access their own. I wish we could get some internet providers to make some long term investments and bring internet access to our whole county.”

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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