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 Original article can be found at The Daily Tar Heel.

Niharika Vattikonda; March 30, 2020

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education met Sunday evening to discuss plans to purchase 225 MiFi hotspots for elementary school students who currently do not have internet access as the district prepares to implement at-home learning.

CHCCS began at-home learning on Monday, and the period of remote learning has been extended until May 15. Staff has been assessing technology needs for elementary school students, and the team has estimated that 225 MiFi hotspots are needed to address the technology gap among elementary school students.

The purchase is expected to cost $49,581.15, according to a quote from Kajeet — a wireless company that services schools and other education providers. CHCCS has already spent $59,273.55 with Kajeet this year, and this new purchase will exceed the $90,000 threshold that requires Board approval.

The district said Kajeet is facing a backlog of 10-15 days, so promptly submitting the order will allow CHCCS to distribute the devices sooner.

Dave Scott, director of technical services, and his team are setting up extra Chromebooks —approximately 500 of the devices — for distribution to elementary school students. The distribution plan will tentatively include drive-up pickup days for families who are able to get to Lincoln Center, according to the agenda documents. For students who are unable to pick up devices, the plan is to use bus transportation to deliver them.

Jeff Nash, a spokesperson for CHCCS, said families who have requested Chromebooks for students in grades two through five will be able to pick up the devices at the 29 different meal distribution sites across the district. If students cannot come to one of these sites, he said, Chromebooks will be delivered to their homes on Wednesday afternoon.

The other agenda item for the meeting was a personnel matter — the Board passed a motion to confirm Assistant Superintendent Patrick Abele as the acting superintendent during Superintendent Pam Baldwin’s medical leave.

Board chairperson Mary Ann Wolf reminded everyone that there will be a regularly scheduled board meeting on Thursday. Earlier in the meeting, she said the board will be hearing from Abele on Thursday regarding the implementation of at-home learning. 

Even in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, Wolf said the board encourages public comments in writing for Thursday’s board meeting. She said board members look at all comments, and the process of having compiled public comments in writing was very effective last time. The public comment period, she said, will run from 3 p.m. on the day of the board meeting until midnight.

Board member Ashton Powell encouraged individuals submitting public comments to include links to video comments, which can help board members know what individuals are thinking and how they’re feeling about the issues.

“Obviously, we are always looking at your comments as you send them to us too, and we appreciate once again everyone really taking a deep breath and being patient as we go into this week,” Wolf said.

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