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  • Fellow Editors

Houston, I Think WCBOE Has a Connectivity Problem

Several parents across Wicomico County are worried and stressing out over how their child will be able to function in the virtual learning environment without the school providing enough laptops and adequate broadband access to its students before school begins on September 8, 2020. Parents are waiting in line for the required tech devices for their child. As of September 3, 2020, parents are told by school faculty that it will be about a 2-3 week wait before their child will receive a laptop, and they notified the school several weeks ago of their needs. Of the students that did receive a laptop, some appear to be new. However, there are many laptops that also appear to be used, off-lease equipment acquired from a bulk computer refurb outlet instead of the school system distributing all new, reliable equipment. Did WCBOE not order and configure enough laptops for their 1:1 student-to-device ratio with the $4,838,479 in aide received for distant learning expenses under the CARES Act? In addition, WCBOE has a broadband grant agreement in place to receive an additional $112,125 from the State of Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to help with student Internet access in unserved communities.

On September 3, 2020 Paul Butler of WCBOE claimed on WBOC that the school has 995 mobile Jepacks. At the next airing of the same WBOC segment at a later hour, they had edited the segment to make Paul Butler say that WCBOE has 1,500 mobile Jetpacks on WBOC. On the same day, Paul Butler made a statement that they only had 1,000 jetpacks on WMDT. It appears that WCBOE never acquired the 1,500 hotspots that they claimed to have for the school system. There are additional reports, as school faculty has told some parents (verbally and in writing) that they only had 1,000 mobile Jetpacks and that more devices were on order. Many parents remain on a waitlist for mobile Jetpacks, and were told that they should receive them in a couple of weeks.

Page 9-10 of the WCPS Recovery Plan states:

In addition, we wonder if the mobile Jetpacks were even tested for adequacy in their application. In order to work with Zoom, you must have at least 4 bars of signal strength or higher (and dicey at that). At three bars of signal strength or lower, it is incapable of reliably transmitting video. If you live in a cellular dead zone, your in trouble. For parents that have multiple children in the school system, they must share a Jetpack in the household. This is even more troubling if multiple children are required to use Zoom at the same time, as they will run into major issues. On the WCPS FaceBook page, parents are expressing their trouble with either the Internet service not working with the school supplied Jetpack, or not having a device available to them while being placed on a wait list.

Parents are being told that they must go to a school parking lot in order to access public WiFi. This is not viable, and simply unacceptable.

With that statement, WCBOE assumes that:

  1. The parent does not have a job Monday-Friday.

  2. The parent owns a car.

  3. Has no other children at home.

  4. A parent and child is able to sit in a car for 6-7 hrs.

  5. A parent can afford the gas to drive there daily and back home.

  6. Has A/C or heat in their car while the car idles for 6-7 hrs consuming even more gas.

  7. The people in the car won't suffer carbon monoxide poisoning.

  8. That the laptop has adequate battery life to run for 6-7 hrs, when the runtime will be about 3-4 hrs while using the camera for Zoom and powering accessories.

  9. The student has a place to go to the bathroom.

  10. The student will fully charge the notebook responsibly each night. If their laptop dies in the parking lot, they cannot complete their school day and will be marked absent.

What on earth was administration thinking? They certainly had enough time to get things in order. Some parents say that they can solve this dilemma by simply opening schools. They may not have a choice when it all implodes. According to the Maryland Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) agreement, WCBOE must supply schoolwork packets for those who cannot get on the Internet or are unable to drive to a public Wi-Fi location: "Understanding some families do not have online access during this uncertain time, lessons are also available in a non-digital format at their home school to pick up during designated times." If the school system tells you "tough luck," then they will be in violation of the agreement under the terms for which they accepted the funds.

On September 3, 2020, the schools hosted a virtual open house to meet the teachers. With an average of 15-20 people in the Zoom meetings for each department, the high school was hosting and streaming multiple simultaneous meetings. Going into one meeting at a time, each hosted meeting kept freezing and locking up every 45-60 seconds or so. We were connected on a robust, business-class Internet connection with four combined Internet lines at our headquarters. This is very concerning, as we know that these glitches were happening on the school's end of things. How will their virtual classroom solutions perform with 15,200 students all at one time? We will certainly find out, but for now we will remain optimistic.

Fellows & Editors

September 3, 2020 Copyright 2020

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News report Copyright WBOC 9/3/2020. News shared under the Fair Use Act solely for the purpose of educational public awareness and not for any purpose of profit.

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