As students were forced to desert nearly all school campuses to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, some internet providers have stepped up to offer free broadband access, equipment and installation.
Burbank and Glendale public school students began an extended two-week spring break on March 16 through 27 and the school districts plan to start a remote learning model on March 30.
Last week’s cascading edicts to close campuses left school officials and educators scrambling to put together plans for distance learning, a term the California Department of Education defines as when a student and instructor are in different locations. While some schools like Providence High School have begun instruction on their chosen online platforms, local districts have a week to launch a learning plan that is inclusive of the needs of English learners and students with disabilities.
State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond led a 75-minute webinar on Wednesday for school district leaders to review the state’s new guidelines on how to operate, including online learning, meal distribution and continuing to pay employees through state funding.
“While we are in very unique circumstances at this time, we are still providing education to our students,” Thurmond said. “School is not out, but we are finding a different way to deliver it.”
According to the state guidelines, schools should assess whether students have access to the internet and digital devices as well as making sure students and teachers know how to navigate its features.
Burbank Unified has not released new information on learning plans or digital devices, but Supt. Matt Hill wrote a message to the Burbank Chamber of Commerce encouraging their businesses and networks to allow employees to take devices home whether they need it to work remotely or not.
“Many employees have multiple children at home and will need multiple devices for learning and/or they are hourly employees who need to continue to work but do not have a device at home for their children,” Hill wrote.
Glendale Unified is taking inventory of internet access and technology in student households through an online survey, gusd.net/Page/13346. The survey is meant to determine which students will need to borrow Google Chromebooks for at-home study. According to Glendale Supt. Vivian Ekchian, lesson plans will be created for students who have access to technology and those who do not.
While educators might have to navigate through uncharted tech territory and frozen video conferencing screens, the companies below have checked internet access off of their long to-do list after the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai urged the industry to accept his “Keep Americans Connected Pledge.”
Charter Communications, which operates under the Spectrum brand, offers 60 days of free broadband, Wi-Fi and installation to households with K-12 and college students who don’t have Spectrum service. Professional or self-installation is available and can take one to seven days.
The company plans to continue the existing Spectrum Internet Assist program to provide service to low-income homes with school-aged children. It opened its Wi-Fi hotspots for all users. They also agreed not to disconnect customers’ internet services and waive late fees for residential subscribers and small businesses who can’t pay their bills.
Burbank and Glendale Unified districts, as well as Glendale Community College and Woodbury University, encouraged eligible students to apply by calling (844) 488-8395.
Comcast Corp. said it would offer 60 days of free internet service to low-income families, who live in the company’s service area and sign up as new customers. Self-installation kits would be shipped for free with no term contract or credit check. After 60 days, customers would be charged $9.95 per month plus tax unless service is disconnected. The offer is available through April 30.
The company is increasing internet speed for all customers. They also agreed not to disconnect or charge late fees.
To apply, the company created the website internetessentials.com or phone numbers (855) 846-8376 for English and (855) 765-6995 for Spanish.
Cox Communications said new customers will receive their first month of free service and installation to families enrolled in low-income assistance programs. After 30 days, customers will be charged $9.95 per month plus taxes. The offer expires May 15.
The company is also offering resources for discounted and refurbished equipment through the nonprofit PCs for People. Cox made an online application available through cox.com/c2c.
Other providers like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Communications also responded to the novel coronavirus by either waiving late payment fees, increasing Wi-Fi hotspots or providing higher mobile data.
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