As Decorah School District begins its final week of continuous online learning program for the 2019/2020 school year, accessing reliable WiFi just got easier. Outdoor WiFi signals are now operating at all five school district buildings for students and staff.
The decision to enable such a system has been in the works since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iowa. In a collaborative statement, Decorah Superintendent Mark Lane and Technology Director Kurt DeVore state, "The external wifi was a project which originated through the daily Keystone AEA superintendent meetings that were being held the first several weeks of the emergency closure. Iowa public schools, and public schools across the country, were receiving guidance and directives from state and federal departments of education regarding the delivery of continuous learning. Public schools are designed to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), and this new model of delivery forced districts to consider how to provide equity of access to all students."
Keystone staff worked with the Iowa Communication Network to figure out potential options for creating equity of internet access for Decorah staff and students. After their presentation, Lane then asked DeVore to pursue the project as part of the continuous learning delivery model.
There are both short-term and long-term benefits of the expansion. In their statement, Lane and DeVore comment, "The immediate purpose is to assist families with a consistently reliable option for internet access. The WiFi expansion is available to all of our students at DCSD and is a system which is provided to address reliable coverage to our outdoor campuses." Additionally, as plans are being made for upcoming 2020/2021 school year, "The WiFi coverage also provides new educational opportunities for the future when we are able to return to the buildings in a traditional setting. We have created new outdoor classroom spaces that we hope will be used in creative ways for years to come."
Students who do not have an Internet connection at home or have a weak connection can go to any of the five school buildings and enter their username and their password to connect to the wireless signal. If a student does not know their password, homeroom teachers can provide that information.
Staff and students are reminded to adhere to all social distancing guidelines when using the new WiFi system. "We were mindful of the social distancing guidelines from the CDC and provided coverage in spaces where high school students or families park as well as places where students could easily sit and work and be appropriately social distanced," Lane and DeVore say.