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Missouri Schools Create Internet Service for Students

Administrators say the network is vital as remote learning continues to be a necessity during the pandemic, when students may be at a disadvantage if families are unable to afford or obtain reliable Internet service.

(TNS) — The Pittsburg School District will launch a new private network to upgrade the virtual learning landscape for students who don't have access to quality internet service for school.

Administrators say the network, called DragonNet, is needed as remote learning continues to be a necessity during the pandemic. Some students may be at a disadvantage if their families are unable to afford or obtain reliable internet service, they said.

The school district has been awarded a series of COVID-19 relief grants totaling $1.1 million to establish a private network within the city limits for approximately 500 households. The service will be provided to families in need for free and can only be used for educational purposes.

"The grants cover the complete buildout of this system, so it's the infrastructure, the engineering, planning, the household devices and data center," said  Brad Hanson , assistant superintendent. "We're fortunate enough that we were able to access some of the COVID relief money to be able to make it a reality."

In partnership with the city of Pittsburg, the district will install five antennas in locations throughout town that have the capability of reaching up to 2 miles in any direction. This will give users solid coverage within most of the city limits.

"We loved the idea of giving broadband to students who need it, but we also saw a value in creating the network," said  Jay ByersPittsburg's deputy city manager. "We've already put a meaningful amount of conduit and fiber in the ground, and we're able to come close to a lot of the facilities that Motorola said would be good locations. It seemed like the right thing to do."

In previous years, the city created a fiber network that connects the district to the city and Pittsburg State University. Hanson said the city did a lot of the legwork early, which has eased the process.

"We're borrowing off their network fiber capability and their antenna space so we can get these antennas up," Hanson said. "Once it's all said and done, we'll have end user devices, which are like modems or Wi-Fi hot spots that we can distribute out to households that have our students."

The network connects directly to the school district's internet service and will use the same firewall and security features students are used to accessing at school. Only district-designated devices will have access to the DragonNet network.

"There will be a data cap, and we will be able to control it because it all runs back through our school district internet service and cell service," Hanson said. "We control what kids can get on and can't get on, and we can control what devices are able to access the network. It's not like we're giving the families internet service, but this is for student educational purposes."

The goal with DragonNet is to help level the playing field for students to ensure that no one is left behind through distance learning, Hanson said. A school survey administered to students at the beginning of the pandemic this past spring showed about 20% of students don't have quality high-speed internet service, he said.

"We want to make sure that all kids have the same opportunity, and we know that there's a digital gap out there where some students don't have the advantages of quality internet service or a device," he said. "That was the other key step that this year we were able to provide a device for each of our students as well."

DragonNet could be operational before the end of the year, administrators said.

(c)2020 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.