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Connecting Classrooms in a World of Social Distancing
Connecting Classrooms in a World of Social Distancing
Posted on 03/18/2020
One team is working as quickly as possible to keep people connected during the conoravirus outbreak.By: Benjamin Rickert, BCS Communications

While the global coronavirus outbreak has resulted in widespread social distancing, one team is working as quickly as possible to keep people connected. Technology Services staff with Buncombe County Schools race to meet the demand for internet connectivity, a need for many living in the less densely populated portions of our mountainous area.

"They have been nothing short of heroic," said BCS Director of Technology Barry Pace. "In a few short days, devices have gone home for all grade levels (K-12) and we have doubled the number of Homework Hotspots."

Only four days ago on March 14, Gov. Roy Cooper closed all North Carolina schools for students in response to the COVID-19 emergency. In response, Buncombe teachers and support staff prepared digital lessons and learning kits for students — all within about 48 hours — to prepare for the start of the Virtual Days online classes.

As educators worked to transition the curriculum into a digital form, technology staff prepared infrastructure, devices, software, and subscriptions to make it all possible. The effort included connecting almost 500 additional student-issued laptops and tablets to Homework Hotspots, which provide Internet service through cellular networks when other connectivity options are absent.

A technician holds up a Homework Hotspot.“We now have over 900 Homework Hotspots assigned to students who need them at all grade levels,” explained Barry Pace, BCS Director of Technology. “We’ve ordered an additional 150 that are scheduled to arrive soon. We are using Sprint, U.S. Cellular and T-Mobile hotspots to meet the need."

Pace’s team of dedicated field technicians and engineers have been working from morning to night meeting the need for connectivity, answering parent questions, and providing technical support to teachers and families by phone, email, and chat.

For parents without Internet access at home, Pace recommends contacting Charter Spectrum about their free 60-day 100Mbps broadband service offered in some residential areas. If unavailable, these parents can still request a Hotspot on a first-come first-served basis by calling their school. When available, BCS Homework Hotspots can only be paired with a student's school-issued and content-filtered device (due to Children's Internet Protection Act regulations and a limited data plan).

According to Jennifer Reed, Director of Elementary and Intermediate Education, principals and teachers are aware that not every family has the same access.

“Our schools are working hard to make sure families have what they need,” she said. “We would encourage you to reach out directly to your school and make it known that there are connectivity issues, so that an alternate solution can be found and learning can continue at home. We’re going to work with you until we find a solution.”

While each day presents new challenges in terms of the coronavirus, BCS’ existing programs are finding enhanced utility. With hundreds of Homework Hotspots already in students' hands and a completed Digital Learning Initiative*, local students and teachers can quickly transition to virtual teaching and learning.

“The name of the game is complete flexibility,” Reed added. “We’re doing the best we can.”

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*The Digital Learning Initiative is a program which assigned an iPad (K-2) or convertible touchscreen laptop (3-12) to each Buncombe County Schools student.

Contact information for the Technology Help Desk can be found on the VirtualDays.BuncombeSchools.org website.


Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin, shanon.martin@bcsemail.org, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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