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Internet Access: State resources needed for homebound students

Perhaps state plans to extend internet access in West Virginia will do some good, eventually. But, as was the case earlier this year, it appears local initiatives will have to take the lead in serving children who are supposed to be learning from home, but without any way to get online there.

Last month, state officials revealed a plan to set up 1,000 wireless internet hotspots throughout West Virginia. The idea was to ensure children could get online to do school work this fall, if for one reason or another they are unable to be in the classroom.

State school Superintendent Clayton Burch reported last week the work was progressing well. But its benefits have limits, even if the 1,000 hotspots are installed. They will be in public buildings such as schools, libraries and state parks — and that means that to get online, many students will have to ask someone to drive them to WiFi hotspot parking lots.

Gov. Jim Justice and a bipartisan group of legislators have revealed plans to tap into as much as $760 million in federal funds to extend internet access throughout the Mountain State. That will take years.

Meanwhile, some of the students expected to begin fall semester work this week from home did not have convenient internet access.

Of course local school boards are working to address the needs of kids here in the Mid-Ohio Valley who are not as connected as they need to be. Good for them. Last spring, you may recall, one quick fix in parts of the state was using mobile hotspots, with WiFi equipment mounted in vehicles such as school buses, to provide access in some rural areas. Perhaps that may be practical again this fall.

In terms of meeting homebound students’ internet needs, local school officials are serving as first responders. They don’t have years. They have to figure it out now. In that role, they should receive top priority in accessing state resources ranging from expertise to funding.

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