LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala. – Many living in Lawrence County lack reliable internet access, which causes a digital divide in the age of virtual learning. Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jon Bret Smith says most of the county is lacking quality internet and that’s a true concern of his for this school year.
“The majority of parents, they don’t have some kind of internet access in their home. It’s a real concern for us and one of the reasons we were strongly against starting virtually this school year as a whole school district,” says Dr. Smith.
Dr. Jon Bret Smith says they recognize there is a digital divide and are working to fix it.
“We have worked really hard this summer to make sure all of our students have access to a Chromebook or some kind of device. Also, we’ve extended WiFi in our parking lots and we’ve also put wifi on our busses,” says Dr. Smith.
Dr. Smith is concerned if COVID-19 causes a long term closure, the lack of internet will be an issue. The Alabama Broadband Connectivity Program could be a huge help.
“Most of us anticipate some type of closure through the school year and so to ensure our students have access to quality internet couldn’t come at a better time,” says Dr. Smith.
The Alabama Broadband Connectivity program is providing vouchers for families of students to cover equipment and service costs for high-speed internet service. In Lawrence County about 70% of the students qualify.
“The majority of people that live out past Moulton needs something, needs an internet provider,” says Dr. Smith.
It’s not just about the cost of internet services but also the availability. Smith says Joe Wheeler Electric Member Cooperative is working to bring internet connection countywide.
“We’re really appreciative of Joe Wheeler EMC’s hard work. It’s happening as fast as they can do it, but it’s not quite fast enough. If we had it tomorrow, it would be a day too late,” says Dr. Smith highlighting the fact that it’s past time for the whole county to have access to internet.
Smith says he does see a silver lining to the pandemic. Lawrence County Schools will be more up to date on technologies going forward.
Prior to the pandemic, Lawrence County Schools didn’t quite have enough Chromebooks or laptops for each student. They say thanks to the CARES Act money they are now a 1:1 school district, meaning there are enough digital devices for each student. The district has plans to purchase nearly 1,000 more devices to replace outdated ones.