Wake County School Board Considers Wi-Fi on School Buses

A school board member sees Wi-Fi on parked school buses as a way to reach potential students who don't have Internet access to continue their learning at home.

by T. Keung Hui, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) / September 23, 2016
A Wi-Fi router is mounted behind the interior driver's mirror inside this Coachella Valley Unified School District bus on Nov. 4, 2014, in Salton City, Calif. Nichole Dobo/The Hechinger Report/TNS

(TNS) — Would turning Wake County school buses into Wi-Fi hotspots in low-income neighborhoods be a way to help bridge the digital divide for students who don't have Internet access at home?

On Tuesday, Wake County school administrators asked school board members if there were items they wanted to be added to a list of topics that the district will discuss between October and December. One of school board member Bill Fletcher's suggestions was to explore parking school buses with Wi-Fi routers in poor neighborhoods.

"One of the challenges we have with students is not having Wi-Fi access at home, and across the nation there are some districts who have equipped buses with Wi-Fi in them and parked them in neighborhoods where kids don't have access to Wi-Fi in their houses," Fletcher said. "I'd love to see that on a list for exploration, if not implementation."

Fletcher told Superintendent Jim Merrill he's not sure if the list of 2016-17 second-quarter items was the proper place for his bus idea. Merrill responded that it sounded like something that might be a business case for inclusion in the next school budget.

The Coachella Valley Unified School District in California has gotten national attention for outfitting school buses with Wi-Fi routers and solar panels and parking them overnight in the most underserved communities. CBS News reported in April that eight Wi-Fi buses are now left overnight in various neighborhoods, and Coachella is now turning salvaged cars into even more mobile hotspots.

"I have made the joke that I will put a router on a pigeon if I have to, and fly them around the neighborhood," Coachella Superintendent Darryl Adams told CBS News. "Whatever it takes to get these kids connected, I will do, It is essential to education."

©2016 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.