KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County Schools sent out possible internet options for students in preparation for the upcoming school year.
The district will be 1:1 by the start of the 2020-2021 school year, which means every student will have a Chromebook. They’re also offering a semester-long, online-only learning option for school attendance this fall. The deadline for registration for that program is 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday.
Students who elect to enroll in the Virtual Learning Program will be committed to this option for the entire semester. Currently enrolled students will be sent an email detailing how to enroll in the Virtual Learning Program via the Aspen Family Portal. (A video tutorial is available on Youtube)
Although children will have a device allowing them to stay at home for school, it doesn’t mean they have access to internet.
KCS partnered with Knox Education Foundation, who spearheaded the internet access initiative, and the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce to help out families who need internet access.
“The eKnox task force has been meeting over the summer to discuss how can we figure out ways to support students that might fall through the gaps? You know, students that might not have internet access at home, whether a wired or hot spot solution, how can we step in to fill a real need in our community,” Johnathan Scoonover, executive director of Knox Ed said.
Scoonover said they created this list of all available internet providers, including low cost internet providers.
“A lot of the low-cost internet options are income eligible, so it’s based on the family income, and then if there’s additional needs or additional supports required, the folks that answer the hotline will be able to walk you through that process of what is available,” Scoonover said.
The hotline for parents to call about additional assistance is 865-594-4484.
He said he knows not every family can afford even $10 a month for internet access, which is why they should call the hotline to find out other possible solutions.
Income might not be the only issue to get access to internet.
“We use (cell phone) hotspots and have unlimited data, but we don’t have actual internet here, just because we’ve tried for so long and we can’t access it,” Abbie Taylor, an upcoming senior at Career Magnet Academy, said.
Taylor and her family lives in a more rural area of Kodak with a quarter-mile long driveway.
She said a list of providers offering cheaper connections might be useful for some, but for her, internet connection is unlikely.
Taylor also worried that her cell phone hot spot wouldn’t be strong enough for certain online school activities.
“Some of the things I wouldn’t be able to do is like Zoom, you know, um, tests. I’d be really scared to take tests on my hotspot, what if it stopped working, you know? Stuff like that. The important stuff,” Taylor said.
Scoonover said that about 98% of the district would be able to have a wired internet connection, so they created a solution for the other 2%.
“If you look at the east, south, north or west, yeah there’s certainly spots where we don’t have, you know, full infrastructure in place to cover everybody. The plan there is to address this with a couple of different things. One, the primary thing is through a hotspot solution,” Scoonover said.
He said the other solutions are a work in progress.
Knox Ed is working to link up with local businesses, houses of worship and other entities to see if they would expand their wifi to help provide internet to students, possibly by offering a student specific password.
“We constantly try to figure out how to close that equity gap for students that don’t have access for the things that a lot of us take for granted. So yeah, we’re working hard at that and that is the goal is 100% access,” Scoonover said.
Knox Ed is a nonprofit, so Scoonover said these internet opportunities were made possible through United Way grants, pending grants and hopefully donations.
The nonprofit is working to partner with local businesses to help fund some of the internet connections.
If any KCS parent truly doesn’t know how they will be able to get internet access for their children, Scoonover said call the hotline at 865-594-4484 Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Representatives will ask for some background information to see what assistance you’ll be eligible for.
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