Connectivity Support

Ferndale was already a 1:1 district in grades 6-12 when the pandemic struck. Since then, we have invested in additional accessible technology, hardware, and connectivity for students and educators in order to facilitate all students learning remotely in September. We have been working creatively with our resources and resource providers to ensure students have the connectivity necessary to participate in their learning.  

All summer, we have been working with a group called Connect Whatcom to come up with solutions for families who do not have adequate means of connecting to the internet. In some cases, the problem will be solved by providing a device. (We have more devices ordered. We are also hoping to free up some devices by instituting a Use-Your-Own-Device program for those students who own a computer they can utilize for schoolwork.) In some cases, we can solve connectivity issues by paying for internet service or by providing a hotspot or a booster. In some cases, the solution is more difficult because of a basic lack of infrastructure in certain neighborhoods. For students who live at addresses where Internet is simply not available, we are working to develop Safe Remote Learning Spaces on our school campuses.

The registration survey the District sent all families the week of August 10 asked about the specific connectivity needs of each family. We are using data from that survey to reach out to families to develop the solution that will work for them.

Ferndale School District Safe Internet Access Sites


Based on the information you provided us on your registration survey regarding connectivity and/or childcare challenges, you have been sent an email invitation to enroll your child(ren) in one of our safe internet access sites.

The information that follows describes these Safe Internet Access Sites.

If you have questions, please contact your school principal.

August 28, 2020

An explanation of Ferndale School District’s Safe Internet Access Sites

Based on a strong recommendation from the Health Department, our District made the decision on August 4 that we would reopen our schools in September with all students in a distance learning model.

Since that decision was made, we have been working very hard to ensure we can (1) provide a device to every student PreK-12 who needs one and (2) get every student connected to the internet.

We have figured out to provide a device to every student who needs one, even though the 700 new devices we purchased are not being delivered in August as promised. We have solved this part of the challenge by taking the following actions:

  • We implemented a “Use Your Own Device” option, whereby families who have their own technology will not check out a district computer for their student(s) -- and this reduced our need by nearly 1,000 devices.
  • We disassembled computer labs and carts in elementary schools so we could hand out those devices to individual students.
  • We “unretired” some of our older computers to put them back into service until the new ones we’ve purchased arrive.

We have not yet figured out how to get each student connected to the internet from their homes, despite the fact that we have been working all summer with every service provider in the county. When it is possible to solve a family’s connectivity challenge by providing a hotspot or a booster or by assisting with service charges, we will do so. However, internet connection is simply not available in certain areas of our school district.

The distance learning program we have spent all summer planning is a much-improved version of what we offered last spring. However, to take advantage of it, students must have to access the internet. Therefore, we have made the decision to create safe internet access sites inside our school buildings where students can get online to participate in their distance classes and log into their digital textbooks.

Here is how the safe internet access sites will work:

  • Based on the information they provided on their registration survey regarding connectivity challenges, families will receive an email invitation this week to enroll their child(ren) in one of our safe internet access sites.
  • The sites will be run according to Health Department guidance. That is, students will be required to complete a daily health screening, assigned to cohort groups, remain six feet apart, wear masks, and so on.
  • The sites will be supervised by district staff.
  • The supervisors will monitor behavior and make sure students get appropriate breaks, but they will not be teaching or mentoring students. Students will still be learning remotely with classmates and teacher(s) to whom they have been assigned.
  • Bus transportation to and from the sites will be offered for families who choose it.
  • Meals will be available.
  • During the first seven days of school (September 2-11), the safe internet access sites will be open for half a day. Beginning September 14, the sites will be open for the full day.

While we have developed this solution to solve our connectivity issues, we recognize that some families are facing difficult childcare challenges as well. We have decided to open up these safe internet access sites to families who need assistance with childcare. Those families who indicated on the surveys they submitted earlier this month that they had no option for childcare will also receive an email invitation to enroll their child(ren) in one of our safe internet access sites.

We have anticipated questions families may have about this plan and have provided answers below. If you have additional questions, you can either reach out to me or contact your child’s principal:

Additional Information/Resources

Wi-Fi Hotspot Lending through Bellingham Public Library: If you need access to the Internet, your Library can help. Thanks to gifts and grants, BPL is now able to lend mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices. If you have a library card with BPL or WCLS, you can check out a hotspot for free! Visit their website for more information:

Comcast Internet Essential (IE):  A family can only qualify for IE 1) They meet the income qualifications 2) They are currently not a Comcast Internet customer.  If they have TV service from Comcast but not Internet they can sign up for IE.  Even if they economically qualify for IE but have a regular internet plan through Comcast/Xfinity they cannot switch over to IE.  They are working on potentially changing this policy due to the impact of COVID on employment but it may take a bit.

PoGoZone:  We are still working with PoGo Zone to identify families that they can connect. As a reminder, these are connection/plans that the County has agreed to cover as much as possible using the CARES act funding. Utilizing the information you are providing on your registration surveys, we will be able to determine which families can be covered. 

Hotspot Testing: Big thank you to Garrett from the Mt. Baker Foundation, Brenda from WSU Extension and the amazing 4H students (your students) who took time out of their weekend to conduct testing for their fellow students. The team completed hotspot testing in districts of Blaine, Nooksack, and Mt.Baker. Testing in Ferndale will take place next. The team tested Verizon, At&T and TMobile mobile hotspots. They tested the strength of the units as well as their download speed for Zoom classes and documents.  What is critical about this is as we purchase and distribute these hotspots to our families, it will help identify which carrier to provide them.  In their preliminary testing, there was not too much overlap on carriers. They will be plotting that data and get that to us soon.   

As I said, I do not believe these internet access sites are a perfect solution, but they represent the means we have available for making sure all of our students can engage with us as we begin this school year. Please know we are listening to you. We are working to develop safe and creative responses to your needs. And we will continue to refine our plans based on feedback. Thank you for hanging in there with us.

Linda Quinn


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