When classes resume after the winter break in the Arlington School District, most students will spend at least the first several weeks taking classes virtually. The school district had to step back its re-opening plans as a result of the pandemic. 

School officials have been working during the pandemic to ensure that all students have internet access. Around 20 percent of the students, which is around 1,000 students, don’t have access to the internet, said Brian Lewis, executive director of operations for the Arlington School District.

Internet issues aren’t necessarily a rural issue as there are parts of the city that have internet connection issues. 

When schools shut down last spring because of COVID-19, each student received a Chromebook and students will continue to have access to devices even after the pandemic, said Kari Henderson-Burke, executive director of teaching and learning for the Arlington School District. 

“We expect that to stay regardless of the pandemic,” Henderson-Burke said. “We want kids to have that advantage.”

Students in kindergarten through first grade have been attending on a hybrid basis since October. The school board last month approved moving the district back a step until Jan. 19, which means most students will participate in classes via distance learning except for students identified with having the greatest need for educational support. Those students can receive in-person instruction, according to information from the Arlington School District. 

After Jan. 19, kindergartners and first graders will return to hybrid instruction. If Department of Health guidance allows, second graders and third graders will join them. 

To help resolve the connection issues, more than 400 internet hotspots were provided to students, Henderson-Burke said. Students could also get internet access through connectivity stations at schools in the district. 

While providing internet access, hotspots also provided some challenges, Lewis noted. It was difficult to obtain the hotspots earlier in the year because the provider ran out of devices. Also, if the signal strength was weak, then they couldn’t access programs, such as Zoom, needed to conduct their schoolwork. There are also problems if multiple people use the hotspot. 

Around 120 students a day go to schools throughout the district to access the internet. Lewis said students go into rooms or the gymnasium or any space that allows social distancing standards to be maintained. 

Elementary students can show up between 9 a.m. and noon and middle and high school students can access the internet between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

Lewis also pointed out the students aren’t the only ones who have challenges. “Teachers face the same challenges as students reaching the Internet.”

In Marysville, school officials surveyed families and learned about a third of the students didn’t have access to the internet, said Jodi Runyon, director of communications for the Marysville School District in an email.  The district’s technology team took several steps to help students including providing Chromebooks with built-in internet, providing hotspots, giving information about resources that help with internet connections and serving some students in-person who are the farthest from educational justice.

There are challenges Arlington school officials are facing when providing distance learning. Henderson-Burke noted that English Language Learners need support such as interaction with specialists and equipment. 

School employees are going to keep moving forward and keep students engaged and make sure the workload is manageable. 

“The goal is to continue to provide options to families,” Henderson-Burke said.

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