Teachers hand out distance learning packets

Students pick up distance learning packets at West End Elementary on Monday.

Parents can find out where they can access public WiFi using a map released by the state Department of Community Affairs.

With schools closed across the country due to the coronavirus, the tool can be helpful for remote learning. But there’s a catch. While metro areas like Cobb County show 15 public WiFi spots, Floyd County only has two.

John Parker, an assistant superintendent in Floyd County Schools, said internet access has been a years-long problem for students in rural areas.

About 20% of students in the county schools find some sort of issue with accessing the internet for remote learning, Parker said. Both city and county schools have used their own money to purchase WiFi hot spots for students to use in their own homes.

“The big problem is getting access to the internet, especially broadband,” he said. “A lot of what we’re doing requires streaming video capability. If you don’t have enough bandwidth, it doesn’t work well. Access for students is a real struggle.”

Usually, he said, that falls under economic lines, which is why he feels that internet access should be a public utility. The best example, he said, was his time working in Walker County, Tennessee.

“About 15 years ago, Chattanooga made the decision to install public access through broadband. It has impacted the economy there in … billions of dollars,” Parker said. “It’s drawn all sorts of tech companies there.”

Students at both school systems have the option to pick up paper packets to complete their work. However, it makes it harder on teachers to check in with students if those students don’t have internet access.

Both of the locations listed on the DCA’s website for public internet access — the Cave Spring Library and the Rome-Floyd County Library — are closed. In a press release sent by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, they acknowledge that many of the locations where public WiFi can be accessed are closed.

“Public WiFi locations like libraries are closed but their connection to the internet is available from points around the outside of buildings such as parking lots,” the release states.

Deana Perry from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs emphasized that people should follow social distancing guidelines if they do have to leave the house to access public WiFi hot spots.

“We are asking that people follow the stay at home order signed on April 2nd,” she said. “Only leave home to visit public WiFi locations to use the internet for essential services.”

She also said that the list does not include privately owned WiFi spots that are publicly accessible.

“Local internet service providers also have local public WiFi locations. Because of some restrictions, those are not included on our list,” she said.

For Parker, he said that the two public WiFi hot spots aren’t really a long-term solution for this problem.

“A lot of these families in rural parts of Georgia don’t even have a method of transportation to get to the library,” he said. “It’s nice for them to put it out there, but it’s not a real solution to this problem.”

As far as any long-term solutions for any crisis that might require schools to close, school systems across the country have admitted to not having one. School officials from both Rome City and Floyd County schools have said it’s definitely important to build one.

“We continue every year to update our devices,” Parker said. “We refresh our devices every year, and we’re adding a certain number of hot spots that can be checked out. Once we get back and see what the impact of this will be, that may be a direction where we can possibly add more of those hot spots for students.”

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