PRINCETON — WiFi hotspots are ready when Mercer County’s students are assigned the iPads or laptop computers they will need for learning at home options when schools reopen this September.

Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday that about $6 million would be spent on installing 1,000 WiFi hotspots throughout the state to help students who may have not have broadband access where they live.

The new hotspots should be installed by Sept. 8, Justice said.

Justice also stated that transportation to these WiFi spots will be provided by school buses, if necessary. Up to 40 percent of the state’s K-12 students lack adequate access to broadband service.

Superintendent Deborah Akers of Mercer County Schools said WiFi access will be available to local students.

“We already have access to WiFi at all our schools if you’re sitting in that parking lot,” she said. “That was done several months ago.”

This WiFi access is not available to anybody who decides to park outside any of Mercer County’s schools.

“It’s available to someone who can hook up to our system,” Akers said. “It’s only accessible to a device that the school system provided; because of the e-rate, it has to be that way. If it’s their (student’s) device, they cannot use it. It has to be through a device we issue.”

The school system will be distributing the necessary laptop computers and other devices the students need for their lessons. This distribution is one of the reasons why schools are doing a “soft opening” the first week with only 25 percent of the students coming to school at a time, Akers said. Students will be assigned their devices and instructed about the procedures for using them.

The type of device a student will be assign depends on his or her grade level, Akers said. For example, elementary students will receive iPads and laptops will go to secondary students.

Mercer County Schools Reopening Plan for 2020-2021 has one possible plan for students attending school five days a week and another plan in which groups of students will attend school on alternate days. Another plan for remote learning could be used if the governor closes schools or if a particular school must close due to an outbreak. About 2,100 of the county’s students have been signed up for a 100 percent Virtual Option.

In each plan, students will receive a school system device for remote learning. Parents will be required to sign an agreement that the replacement for any lost or damaged devices will be the parent’s responsibility.

Gov. Jim Justice announced on Aug. 7 that Kids Connect – a joint effort between the Governor’s Office of Technology, the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) and the Higher Education Policy Commission was working to establish the new WiFi hotspots. Besides establishing access points at all 688 of the state’s Pre-K-12 schools, the project will also establish additional access points at 32 higher education institutions, 255 libraries and 31 of West Virginia’s state parks.

An interactive map showing some of these WiFi locations can be viewed on the WVDE’s website.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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