Allentown, Pa., District Buys Wi-Fi Hot Spots for Students

In an effort to narrow the digital divide, Allentown School District will be purchasing 3,500 hotspots to help provide Internet access for students as they begin the new school year.

The Allentown School Board hired Gary Cooper, an adjunct professor at Lehigh University and a former superintendent of a small school district in Delaware County, to serve as interim superintendent for one-year.
(TNS) — The Allentown School District is spending $844,080 to purchase more than 3,500 hotspots to help students access Internet during remote learning.

The district’s 17,000 students will start the school year next month virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. Allentown promises that every student will have access to a computer device to do lessons, but the district also recognizes that many of its students live without high speed Internet.

Superintendent Thomas Parker said for remote learning to be successful, the district has to acquire hotspots for families to have Internet. When the district conducted a survey in the spring, almost 20% of 12,000 families said they do not have access to high speed Internet. Most of the district’s students live in poverty.

“The digital divide is a concern,” Parker said. “Wifi and computers are the new pencil and papers. And if you’re in a classroom, and a kid needs pencil and paper, you have to provide it for him.”

Deputy Superintendent Lucretia Brown said the district has applied for a state grant through the Department of Community and Economic Development that would cover the cost of the 3,500 hotspots. But with the first day of school less than four weeks away, the district doesn’t want to wait for the grant to come through to buy the hotspots.

The money to buy the hotspots is coming out of the district’s technology budget. If the district does receive the grant, it will use it to reimburse the technology budget.

Distribution will be done through data the district received through its technology survey. If families can’t pick up the devices, the district will ship the hotspots to them or have someone do a porch delivery.

When the district pivoted to remote learning in the spring, the Century Fund and the Allentown School District Foundation worked to secure 1,000 hotspots for Allentown students.

In other related coronavirus costs, the district will also spend $226,224 for 74 touchless water bottle filling systems that will be located throughout district buildings.

©2020 The Morning Call, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.