Faced with students who need to learn online but don’t have reliable internet access, Calvert County Public Schools will open schools for a limited number of students to learn online.
The Maryland school district will operate what they call “internet cafes” starting the week of Sept. 7. Students will work in school cafeterias and will have to maintain physical distance and wear face masks. They’ll have recess and “mask breaks,” Assistant Superintendent Diane Workman said.
The internet cafes will be staffed with school employees who previously worked on school buses and in child care, she said.
Katie Buck, a county resident and mother of three, said she was looking forward to sending two of her children to the internet cafes. They don’t have physical access to a strong internet connection at home, so the option is key for online learning.
“It’s trying for families, especially families with multiple children, who don’t have access,” she said.
About 500 other households in the county of about 35,000 housing units don’t have physical access to an internet connection. They rely on wireless services such as hotspots.
Comcast, NBC’s parent company, provides service in areas that have at least 15 homes per mile. Those who don’t fall in that category would have to pay for a line to be installed, which could cost thousands.
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Buck said her family never imagined it would cost so much to get a service so “basic.”
Comcast said in a statement that there are “low-density areas where it is not economical for Comcast or any provider” to expand its network, but they partner with jurisdictions that provide grants to help cover costs.
Calvert County said it's working with Comcast to give more households internet access. As part of an agreement, 62 homes were identified for connection at Comcast’s cost. These are nearing completion. Through a state grant made available last year, 28 additional homes will get service by the end of the year. The county is finalizing plans to provide cable access to the remaining communities.
Through another program, Comcast offers internet plans in some areas for as low as $10 for those who qualify.
Calvert County is far from the only part of the D.C. area with an internet problem. The News4 I-Team found in February that nearly 1 million people in Maryland and Virginia have no access to cable lines, fiber or any high-speed internet.
Calvert County schools says families who have difficulty getting online to do schoolwork should contact their school principal.
The district hopes to bring in small groups of students who don’t have internet access or need extra attention, starting in In early October.