Schools Battle Connectivity Issues Through Pandemic

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From filing taxes to finding a pizza restaurant, you can do almost everything online. So when schools shut down, it seemed so simple to say 'we'll teach that way' but so many districts didn't have devices for everyone and that wasn't the biggest problem. 

“We have one-to-one computers for students in 4th grade on, but they might as well be boat anchors without internet,” said Castleberry ISD Assistant Superintendent, Renee Smith Faulkner.

Thousands of North Texas families, especially those in low-income areas, didn't have internet access in their homes.  

"I'd say 95% of my students only have a phone," said one teacher.

Then out of nowhere, we heard from school board members in a tiny suburb west of Fort Worth who had been trying to fix this problem for years and had finally found a solution.

"It's a cell network like AT&T would have but instead of using an existing carrier, we have our own," said IT Director, Jacob Bowser.

What are the chances their internet tower would be up and running, ready to go for the first time, just as the pandemic was getting underway?

"This is a huge game-changer for us. We’re not out scrambling trying to buy hot spots or things of that nature,” said Castleberry ISD Superintendent, John Ramos. 

Castleberry's model caught the eye of the leaders of the biggest school district who got the state involved and pledged to copy it, on a much larger scale. 

"I'm going to take this on as a personal mission, I'm going to work on this for the balance of the calendar year," said Dallas ISD Superintendent, Michael Hinojosa.

Some companies offered lower-cost services and students started hanging outside fast food joints just to get an education.

In January, the first towers, temporary ones, finally came online in Dallas ISD at some schools but still, only a few kids are logged on, district leaders comparing it to the vaccine rollout, slow at first, but will ramp up quickly.

"We're seeing good performance, good feedback from the folks logged into the network that it's going as expected," said Dallas ISD Chief Technology Officer, Jack Kelanic.

Later this year they'll present data to the board on how the pilot program is going and hope for a full tech rollout in a few years.

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