BEAVERTON, OR (KPTV) - Many districts and cities are working to close the digital divide before school starts. That divide includes families who can’t afford internet and also families who have no access to it based on where they live.
The empty parking lot at Sandy Community Campus could get a lot busier once school starts in September. It’s just one of several places in Sandy, and other surrounding rural areas, where Oregon Trail School District students can connect to public WiFi.
“Some of these people have no other option, other than to just sit in their car and use the WiFi there,” said Greg Brewster.
Brewster is the General Manager for SandyNet, the city-run internet service provider.
He said once school stops for many kids in the area, so does their internet access. That’s why he frantically worked last spring to add wireless hotspots to different areas, so students living in more rural areas could still learn, even if that meant from a parking lot.
“They’re just kind of anywhere and everywhere we could’ve deployed them,” Brewster said. “We went out and tried to accommodate as much as we could and the result was, we got through the school year.”
With a little more time to prepare now, Brewster said the goal is to add even more hotspots.
“It’s still kind of an inconvenience to drive maybe ten miles to get to a free hotspot to get internet, however it’s better than the alternative, which might be nothing,” Brewster said.
Bigger cities, like Beaverton, are dealing with a different kind of digital divide.
“We know that COVID has impacted our disadvantaged students, you know, disproportionately,” said Shellie Bailey-Shah, a spokesperson for the Beaverton School District.
Bailey-Shah said that’s why they’ve teamed up with Comcast to offer six months of free internet for any student who qualifies for free or reduced lunch, to make sure they’re on the same playing field come September.
“So we know that there’s a small percentage of our community that still does not have access to the internet and they’re going to need to have that access to participate in comprehensive distant learning,” Bailey-Shah said.
Brewster said they’re also looking at ways to help families who can’t afford internet in his are by soon rolling out a rate assistance program.
“We’ve definitely seen that need for a long time and when the pandemic hit, we saw this is a basic service that needs to be offered to any available person that qualifies,” Brewster said.
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