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School Board Considers Investing in Internet for Students

Two items on the agenda for this week’s Hamilton County, Tenn., Schools board meeting are aimed at closing the digital gaps among students, specifically helping low-income students access digital learning.

by Monique Brand, Chattanooga Times / August 21, 2020
Cyberspace has become indispensable during the COVID-19 pandemic, heightening the need for online protections. Shutterstock/atm2003

(TNS) — Two items on the agenda for Thursday's Hamilton County Schools board meeting are aimed at closing the digital gaps among students.

In late July, the school district introduced the Chattanooga area to HCS EdConnect, an initiative in partnership with EPB to provide free internet to all students in need. Educators have stressed internet connectivity as a key issue in closing achievement gaps for disadvantaged students.

"In 2020, if it wasn't obvious before, it's more apparent than ever: High-speed broadband is a baseline need for American families," Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke told the Times Free Press on July 28.

The board is expected to vote on two funding appropriations to pay for HCS EdConnect-related items: $1 million for its share of the $8.2 million, 10-year funding commitment alongside other community partners and $170,000 for hot spots for 450 disadvantaged students who live outside of EPB's service area. Hamilton County and the city of Chattanooga committed to contribute $1.5 million each.

The school district's $1 million share will include $450,000 from the federal CARES Act designated for coronavirus relief, $200,000 from the district's cell tower technology fund, and $350,000 from the district's fund balance that was assigned to the technology department.

The hot spots also will come out of the fund balance. The estimated total amount of the district's fund balance is $30 million.

In other matters, the school board will bid farewell to board member Kathy Lennon. The District 2 representative had qualified to run for re-election but pulled her name off the ballot in April citing health issues.

"I regret that as a result of recent health issues that I wish to withdraw my name as a candidate for county school board District 2," Lennon said in early April. "My life has been dedicated to the service of others in my community as I am driven by my faith to do so. Serving on the school board for the past four years has been the culmination of that service."

Lennon assumed office in 2016. Her current term ends on Sept.1.

Newcomer Marco Perez won Lennon's seat in the Aug. 6 election over Tom Decosimo, with 5,272 votes to 3,850.

Incumbents Rhonda Thurman and Joe Wingate kept their seats.

According to the district's communications director Tim Hensley, the newly elected members will be sworn in sometime next month.

The livestream meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. on the district's Facebook page.

©2020 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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