Gainesville’s schools will soon have more WiFi accessibility as the system prepares to start a new year that includes in-person and virtual options for students.
The Gainesville City School District can move forward with the purchase of up to $40,000-worth of outdoor WiFi antennas for its eight schools after approval from the Gainesville school board on Monday.
Those access points are designed for people to walk or drive up to and operate under the school's internet filter, meaning users cannot search inappropriate or otherwise unauthorized sites.
An initial investment of about $26,000 will install 24 access points across all school sites, and the district will evaluate remaining need after those installations, said Jill Hobson, the district's chief technology officer.
At least a portion of the student body will be completing school work in a virtual-only setting this year. Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams said Thursday, July 23, that so far, about 19% of families, or 1,500 students, have elected 100% online learning.
“This decision provides our community with the opportunity to drive up or walk up to the schools and connect to district-provided high-speed internet services," Williams said in a news release. "It is an important step towards ensuring every family has the access needed to extend learning beyond the school day.”
One outdoor access point will serve at least 50 users at a time and provide coverage up to 300 feet, according to school officials. Each site will receive at least three access points, thus serving 150 simultaneous users and will be placed to allow for a maximum coverage, the release says.
Williams later told The Times that most families live close enough to a school to walk or drive up and use them, but if they do not, the district will work with the family to get them a WiFi hot spot. Otherwise, paper packets of school work will be provided to families who do not have internet access, he said.
Once the final site locations are determined, the school district will post information about where the access points are located and how to connect on the district and school websites and will communicate this information with students and families through school events, the district said.
The district has already installed access points on its Elephant Express buses and allows students to check out personal WiFi-emitting devices.