The Oklahoma State Department of Education announced a grant award for mobile internet connections for public schools, including Norman Public Schools, in a Friday press release.
State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced in the release the award of mobile internet access and devices through 50,000 Verizon Unlimited 4GE data plans and Jetpack mobile hotspots to 175 Oklahoma public school districts — with Norman Public Schools receiving 2,000 hotspots.
According to the release, the department used a portion of its funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund created by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Hofmeister said in the release these grants are meant to ensure all students have access to online education should districts need to convert to distance learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This pandemic has underscored the inequities of the digital divide that hinder opportunities for so many of our children,” Hofmeister said in the release. “We know one-fourth of our students lack reliable home internet access. Many districts have used a portion of the funds allocated to them under the CARES Act to purchase a sufficient number of devices for every student to have access to technology, an effort we encouraged through incentive grants earlier this summer.
“But a device without connectivity is like a book in a pitch-dark room. We are grateful that this partnership with Verizon and OneNet will make a critical difference in ensuring many thousands of children and families will now have the opportunity for robust distance learning.”
OneNet will provide content-filtering and technical support to the districts benefiting from the grant and will assume the $250,000 value of this support.
According to the release, OneNet is a division of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education that provides services like broadband to public school districts, libraries and higher education institutions across Oklahoma.
“Now more than ever, internet access is vital for students to fully participate in distance and online learning,” said Vonley Royal, executive director of OneNet and higher education chief information officer, in the release. “OneNet is proud to provide services to our state’s students during the pandemic.”
According to the release, districts receiving these devices will be expected to use them following specific requirements, which includes ensuring devices are only deployed to low-income students.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need to bridge the digital divide and keep students connected to their schools, teachers and each other,” said Andrés Irlando, president of Public Sector and Verizon Connect at Verizon, in the release. “Verizon is working to provide connectivity, devices and other solutions to every student in the U.S. who needs them — whether they are back in the classroom full-time, learning from home or through a hybrid model.”
According to the release, schools should receive the devices in time for the start of the school year and will receive technical support from Verizon throughout the school year.
Schools wanting to purchase additional hotspots for students not considered low-income or for teachers and staff will have the opportunity to purchase them from the department at the discounted rate OSDE received, according to the release.
A full list of school districts and the number of devices they’ve been granted was also provided in the release.