LISD to expand internet access to all students
By Wesley Gardner
The Lockhart school district Board of Trustees at a specially called meeting on Monday voted unanimously to approve several budget amendments totaling roughly $447,000 that will allow the district to obtain seven network towers to provide wireless internet access to all district students and staff throughout Caldwell County.
The total cost for the setup of the towers, installation of routers and internet service for the first year will be $447,500. The annual cost of internet service in subsequent years would total $60,000 a year.
Superintendent Mark Estrada said the action was taken in direct response to the lack of adequate internet coverage for many students and staff members at a time when distance learning is necessary due to the impact of COVID-19.
Estrada noted a recent survey conducted by the district revealed roughly 60 percent of district’s students had internet access, leaving the others unable to participate in online learning, even as the district passed out Chromebooks to students in need.
“As our leadership began planning for distance learning in response to COVID-19, we learned how many of our families either have unreliable internet or no internet service at all,” said Estrada, noting parts of Caldwell County are considered “dead zones,” with no service available by any provider. “Because of the urgency, our leadership team took swift action to review options and identify a solution to bring to the board for approval.
“This is about equity. Every one of our Lockhart Lions needs to have access to the opportunities they deserve to grow and truly thrive.”
According to the budget amendment, the district will partner with Particle Communications for access to three existing towers in Dale, Luling, and Seawillow, which will begin to provide internet service within an eight-mile radius to students and staff by the end of April.
In addition, the district will build four new towers at Strawn Elementary School, Fentress, Maxwell and Uhland. In total, seven towers will provide internet coverage countywide by the end of July. Also included in the purchase is 500 routers, meaning the service will initially be available to up to 500 homes.
Estrada noted at the meeting that the district had about 1,200 students who didn’t have internet access and that the average family in the district had more than two kids in the household.
“That’s how we landed at the 500 [devices],” said Estrada. “It may be that there will be more because there are some people that we haven’t been able to contact.”
Estrada said if more devices were needed, the matter would be brought to the board for approval, noting the district couldn’t purchase any less than 50 devices at a time. The cost of purchasing 50 additional devices would come out to $22,250, while the cost of providing internet access to 50 additional homes would be $6,000 a year.
Estrada noted the internet service will be managed to ensure it’s used for instructional programming only, restricting access to non-educational websites.
In other business, board members voted to approve a temporary modification of the district’s grading policy.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Stephaine Camarillo said the changes were necessary as the district implements the Long Distance Learning program that began on Monday.
“We have, since the outbreak, to the best extent possible had a plan for continuity of instruction, whether it be through the distribution of additional technology or paper-based learning,” said Camarillo. “Due to not having the normal instruction that we would typically have and the inability to implement those current policies and procedures and guidelines for grading, we are asking for some modifications.”
Camarillo said the district would normally take all the grades and credits students complete through the end of the Spring semester to assess student’s GPAs and class ranking. The modified grading policy will cut off grades used to calculate GPA and ranking at the end of the Fall semester students had already completed.
Additionally, all grades in the current semester will be either pass or incomplete. Camarillo noted the grading guidelines would go back to normal when students resume school next fall.