Angela Bufford is a mother of six living in Albemarle County who worries that her family’s Wi-Fi will be inadequate for online learning.

Her children will attend Monticello High School, Walton Middle School and Red Hill Elementary School this fall.

“One child would come home, back when they were in school, and they would get on their computer to do their homework, and then everything would just start lagging so bad,” she said.

Because the Wi-Fi is not strong enough to support all her children being online at the same time, “they would have to take turns,” she added.

Last week, Charlottesville City Schools announced plans to begin the year serving all students virtually and Albemarle County Public Schools announced plans to begin the year serving most students virtually. Both school systems are seeking to address the needs of students who lack the technology or internet access required for learning online.

Albemarle County Public Schools

ACPS estimates that 700 to 1,000 of their 14,000 students will need assistance with internet access, spokesman Phil Giaramita said. This includes students who don’t have internet access at all and students who don’t have adequate internet access to support online learning.

These families will have three options for accessing coursework:

  • the option for their student to come into a nearby school for internet access, with a teacher or teaching assistant to help the student access and understand the virtual curriculum.
  • the option to be provided with a Kajeet hot spot device, at no cost to the family, which would link to the data network of the strongest nearby cellular carrier to provide the student with internet access in their home
  • the option to have paper educational content and a thumb drive with pre-recorded lectures delivered to the student’s home

According to Giaramita, another option for internet access is in the works. He explained that Comcast has a program offering services to low-income families at a reduced cost. The school division is hoping to cover this cost so some families can get Comcast’s services at no expense.

“We’re still in negotiations with Comcast about it, but I think it’s just a matter of time,” said Giaramita. “It’s likely that we will be able to offer that as yet another option.”

Additionally, Giaramita noted that the district has boosted Wi-Fi signals in each school to increase the range to the buildings’ parking lots.

“If a family doesn’t want to send their child to school — maybe they have some health concerns — they’ll also have the option of driving to the parking lot and being able to download the material from there,” Giaramita said.

ACPS families who will need support with internet access should contact the principal of their students’ school, he said.

“They can contact their principal and let them know what their needs are, and then through the principal will be able to make those arrangements,” Giaramita said. “There’s no application. It’s just a matter of what best fits each individual family’s circumstances.”

As in previous years, each student in grades 3-12 will be given a laptop. Formerly, tablets were given to pairs of K-2 students to share; however, the district is purchasing additional tablets such that each K-2 student will have their own this year.

Charlottesville City Schools

CCS is planning to provide each pre-K-12 student with a Chromebook and a hot spot device as needed, according to Director of Technology Pat Cuomo.

Cuomo said that in the spring, more than 200 hot spot devices were made available to families, and that met the internet needs of the district’s families. However, he noted that the number of families who need internet access could change.

“Whether that number stays the same or increases, I know [Superintendent Rosa Atkins] is prepared to offer options that will provide access to the materials that the children need in order to begin the school year,” he said.

CCS has not yet had discussions about other possible options, such as having paper materials and thumb drives delivered to students’ homes or allowing some students to connect to the internet in school buildings, Cuomo said.

“I think those are going to be great conversations that will come up in the coming weeks,” Cuomo said. “I think we need to survey the community and make sure that we are fully aware of what the needs might be, so that we can make that plan.”

He recommends that CCS families who need support with internet access reach out to an administrator or teacher to express their needs to their school. From there, the technology department will work with the school to provide the devices the family needs.