San Antonio school districts offer Wi-Fi hotspots to students using school buses, VIA vans

Megan Armstrong San Antonio News

San Antonio school districts are partnering with city agencies to provide mobile Wi-Fi service to students.

Vans equipped with high-speed networks will be dispatched to locations across the city, officials said Wednesday. The mobile hotspots have a range of 100 to 200 feet and will allow students to access the signal from a nearby parked car.

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“At a time when distance learning is so critical, the lack of a home connection to the internet is a huge obstacle to a student’s progress toward academic achievement,” said San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez. “Collaborations like these between San Antonio’s organizations and school districts ensure the education of every child continues.”

Local school districts began distributing Chromebooks and iPads to students earlier this month when forced to move lessons online. However, nearly 25 percent of Bexar County households do not have a computer at home and about 21 percent lack broadband Internet access, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The mobile hotspots — VIAtrans vans — will allow students to access digital classrooms. Those accessing the network must observe social distancing guidelines and cannot board the van, officials said.

The hotspot locations were identified using factors including student population in the area, other available resources, and feasible vehicle access. A map of the locations is available here.

The collaboration is “taking aim at the digital divide that makes distance learning difficult or impossible for many San Antonio students without reliable internet access while the city observes the ‘Stay Home, Work Safe’ order,” according to a statement.

The partnership brought together VIA Metropolitan Transit, the city of San Antonio, San Antonio Housing Authority, San Antonio ISD and Northside ISD.

Harlandale ISD also recently installed Wi-Fi hotspots to ensure students have access to the Internet.

Students can access signals from more than 50 school buses parked strategically across the district, as well as 100 antennae on district buildings.

The buses’ signal radiates in an area up to 600 feet in diameter, while the buildings’ signal ranges up to 300 feet. Families can park near one of the signals and download assignments using a student’s login from their vehicles.

A map of the South Side district’s hotspots is available here.

Mark Dunphy is a breaking news and general assignment reporter for | [email protected] | @m_b_dunphy