Stevens Point district testing DPI parent survey to get students connected to internet sources before school begins

Published: Jul. 22, 2020 at 6:06 PM CDT
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STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) - Stevens Point Area Public School District is one of two districts in the state testing out a new survey. It is meant to allow the state and districts to better understand the type of internet needs students have while working from home, and to get those who have poor or no internet connection.

The district sent a text message survey to parents Wednesday evening through a service called Talking Points. It asked them three questions about their internet access at home. Those questions include ones like: Do you have an internet connection at home? What kind of internet is it or how are you connected? Does the quality of the connection allow for video conferencing?

“We’re always going to have to be prepared to be able to go online. We just don’t know what the future holds,” Dr. Brian Casey, SPAPSD director of technology said. “Even if we start face-to-face, we could be in a situation one month, two months, six months down the road where we’d have to go back to virtual instruction, so that’s always going to be something that we have to provide for and at least have the infrastructure for.”

Casey said as the pandemic caused schools to rapidly go virtual, the district learned about 1-2% of families in the district who did not have internet access, but that is not the only problem.

“One of the things that became apparent was the inadequacy of many of the internet connections available to families,” he stated. “So, we did the best we could at the time, but we know we could do better.”

Stevens Point and Racine are the two districts working with the Department of Public Instruction to formulate questions and figure out a format to best get in contact with families and understand these internet needs. SPAPSD went the text message route because it allows families who do not have access to the internet or a smartphone to be able to respond.

DPI is also creating public-private partnerships with internet and broadband companies that want to create internet program offers that the school districts can provide for some of their households.

Several internet providers in the Stevens Point area have partnered with the Department of Public Instruction to provide internet program offers that districts can use to get families with poor or no access online.
Several internet providers in the Stevens Point area have partnered with the Department of Public Instruction to provide internet program offers that districts can use to get families with poor or no access online.(Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction)

Kurt Kiefer, DPI Assistant State Superintendent for the Division of Libraries and Technologies said doing surveys will help districts identify where students live and connect them with the internet in a way that makes the most sense for their location, whether that is through providing a mobile hot spot or adopting broadband, etc.

Broadband has been an issue throughout the country and many states and local municipalities have created workgroups to come up with solutions to insufficient broadband access. Kiefer said this is a crucial time to get that information to those who can help build that infrastructure.

“The more data we do have, obviously, the better we’re able to assess the whole situation in the State of Wisconsin and give that information to policymakers so they can help to refine where they need to make some decisions to invest in getting some broadband access around the state,” he said.

“If you don’t have the internet, then you’re really not able to participate in the educational system, in the economy, and in the information,” Casey said. “It’s just been a crucial thing that everyone needs.”

“This equity gap is really a technical one and I’m really hopeful that with the will and the resources we can say, you know there’s a way to solve this, let’s just get it done,” Kiefer urged.

SPAPSD will be doing another survey as part of student registration, but Casey said they did not want to have to wait until August because it could be too late to make arraignments in time for the start of the new school year. DPI plans on making this survey system or something similar available for all districts to use if they choose as soon as next week.

Copyright 2020 WSAW. All rights reserved.

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