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.
The WiFi survey was conducted from inside a car, connecting to FSDNET and running speedtest.net to get a download speed reading. Colored squares represent the approximate location of the car during the test. The number in the box represents the relative download speed (X * 10 ~= Speed in Mbps). The higher the number the stronger the signal. Readings that round‐off below 10 Mbps are not represented. Car was moved to drive accessible spots at each location. If a chain or gate was blocking access, no reading was taken beyond the block.
If there is a drive accessible spot with no reading, it is for one or more of the following reasons:
- FSDNET was not available
- Speed was below 10 Mbps
- There is a reading closer/stronger inline to the building
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:
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.
Part of the answer has to do with numbers. We anticipate serving significantly fewer students at these internet access sites than we would be serving in any version of in-person learning, even the hybrid model. The second part of the answer has to do with what the students at these sites will and will not be doing. They will be learning remotely, just like their classmates at home. They will not be interacting with one another or a teacher in the same way they would if they were in an in-person learning setting. With smaller numbers and limited interaction, we feel confident we can meet all of the Health Department guidelines relevant to our current stage.
The staff who will be supervising will be paraeducators and security personnel. They are not computer technicians, but they will do their best to help troubleshoot student access issues and support students in other ways as they are able.
Yes. We have limited space, so we can only invite families who don’t have other options to enroll their children. Once you enroll your child, they will have a seat in one of our sites. We don’t anticipate we will be able to accommodate drop-ins.
This is an option for students who need internet access. They can come on any day they need access, but they don’t have to come on a day when they have another way to get onto the internet. For example, if a student will be spending several days at an aunt and uncle’s house where internet access is available, they can log into school from there. They don’t have to be at our site to be counted present in school.
If a family has requested bus transportation to and from the internet access site, they do need to call our Transportation Department dispatcher at least one hour prior to scheduled pick up to let them know the days they will not be attending. The dispatcher’s phone number is 360-383-9236.
No. Not if they have their own transportation. If they are riding the bus, then they do have to remain on site for the entire time. We will have sign-in and sign-out procedures established at each site.
Yes. Of course. We do not believe these internet access sites are the best option for students, but as we kick off the school year they are the only option we have for families without internet access. We plan to work with you to develop better options if we can. We are continuing to communicate with internet service providers in our area to figure out which addresses can be served by hotspots or signal boosters. When we discover other solutions, we will assist you in implementing them.
Yes. If a parent wants to come into one of our sites to participate with their child in a zoom conference with a teacher or a webinar or just to work through a lesson, they are welcome. We will have procedures in place for parents to sign in and out.
Yes. We have not decided which schools will have sites yet, because we first need to find out how many students wish to make use of this option. Once we determine the sites, you can request that all of your children are enrolled at the same one regardless of their school level.
Students at our internet access sites are going to have to wear headphones. We request that they bring their own for health and safety reasons. If they don’t have headphones they can bring, we will have some to loan.
If your student checked out a device from the School District, then they need to bring it. If they did not check out a district device, we will provide them with one at the internet access site.
Once we get the information from the enrollment form you filled out, we will develop bus routes and notify you by phone, on or before the evening of September 1, with your student’s assigned Bus Number, bus stop location, pick-up time, and drop off time.
We will be asking families to sign a pledge that they will not send their child(ren) to one of our internet access sites if they have any symptoms -- fever, cough, runny nose, etc.
Supervisors will ensure students get movement breaks and meal breaks scheduled around their online classwork. However, most of the time students are using the internet access site, they will need to be in their seat. Think of it as a library setting where people are working quietly on individual projects.
Yes. Masks are required for all persons who come into our school facilities.
Meals will be available to all students. They will be free for those students who qualify for Free & Reduced Lunch. They will be available for a fee to students who do not have an approved Free & Reduced Lunch application on file. Applications for Free & Reduced Lunch are available online at this address: https://www.ferndalesd.org/food-service/free-reduced-lunch-application. Please note that applications do not carry over from one year to the next. You need to fill out a new one each year.
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.
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