The start of school should be an exciting time in Haley Scruggs’ household.
It’s the beginning of the end of school for Scruggs’ oldest child, a rising freshman at Crest High; a chance to reconnect with friends for her seventh grader at Crest Middle; and the start of her kindergartners educational journey at Springmore.
With students expected to start the 2020-21 with a mix of in-person and virtual learning, the prospect of returning to school is for many families more stressful than ever before.
The Scruggs family is one of thousands in the state which struggles with reliable, if any, high-speed internet at home, something families need in order for their child to attend school this year.
The family has lived in their current home, situated off of Washburn Switch Road, for more than a decade. Their neighbors on nearby streets have high-speed internet, but no service provider has expanded to their home.
“I’ve called every internet provider around. AT&T doesn’t have anything near us. Spectrum is the closest, and I’ve tried for 12 years to get them to bring internet to our house but they just give me the run around. I can’t even get them to give me a price to have them run the lines here,” said Scruggs.
For families like Scruggs’ the only option for internet service is HughesNet, a satellite provider of varying reliability. Much like satellite television, internet quality is often impacted by factors such as weather, time of day and number of people pulling from the service.
After schools closed in March, Scruggs said she tried to use her home internet through HughesNet to let her kids do their school work, but many days they were unable to watch videos put up by their teachers or complete assignments on certain websites because they simply would not load.
“As a parent it makes me want to cry. It’s just such a hassle, and it makes it so I can’t provide my kids with what they need and it just breaks my heart,” she said. “When push came to shove, we had to go to our church. They had high-speed internet, and they let us in so the kids could do their work.”
The national coronavirus outbreak has shone a light on many inequalities in the American way of life including broadband internet access.
According to a presentation to lawmakers by state Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure earlier this year, about 95 percent of households across the state have access to broadband internet.
But large portions of rural North Carolina – including a significant chunk of western and northern areas in Cleveland County – are still waiting on services long promised, but never delivered.
According to a 2018 map of internet access, the area most impacted by a lack of internet access expands from Polkville to Fallston and up to the northern part of the county border past Casar.
With school set to resume in just under a month, Cleveland County Schools said it is working to address the fact a significant number of students simply cannot get online.
“Each student situation is unique, and our school teams are working hand-in-hand with families to find the best possible solutions,” said CCS spokesman Greg Shull in an email.
When schools closed in March, CCS provided laptops to students who needed them for remote instruction and set up wireless internet hot spots around the county.
Shull said the district is aiming to expand both programs this school year. Last month the CCS Board of Education approved a purchase of more than 1,200 new laptops for elementary school students, as well as new software licenses for review materials.
“…We are working to procure mobile hot spots, continuing to expand outdoor access points at our schools, and providing many more resources and development opportunities to teachers in enhancing the remote learning experience,” he said. “As for Chromebooks, we have increased our inventory throughout our schools and will have devices available for students.”
Shull did not say how many hot spots would be operational at the start of the school year or what the procedure for giving out laptops would be.
School starts Monday, Aug. 17.
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