Samantha Fuhrey

Samantha Fuhrey

COVINGTON — The first week of virtual learning for the 2020-2021 school year brought a number of technological challenges for the Newton County School System.

On Tuesday morning before the first class could get underway, AT&T experienced a blown circuit, which created problems with internet access across the school district. Students who were not able to log in were not penalized or counted absent.

Some parents expressed their frustration on the school system’s Facebook page.

{p class=”p1”}“Day 1! Epic FAIL!!!” wrote one parent. Another simply posted a praying hands emoji. Others had a more positive outlook. “Thank you to every single person that works for Newton County!” wrote another. “I know this is a challenging time with a completely new way of doing things. We as a Rocky Plains Elementary family were notified of outage timely and the teachers all sent out links for Zoom! Way to stay on top of things! Very proud of my school system! Not your fault that ATT had an issue! Thanks for everything NCSS!”

Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey acknowledged the technological issues and expressed the system’s appreciation for the support of students and their parents.

“Due to an outage with AT&T, the first day of school started differently than we had planned; however, our students, teachers, leaders and families were patient, supportive and resilient,” said Fuhrey. “We are thrilled to have our students back and look forward to seeing so many of them in-person in the coming days.”

Fuhrey had anticipated some glitches in getting the school year started on Tuesday. In a video posted to the school system’s YouTube channel on Sept. 4, Fuhrey asked for patience and shared information on how to deal with technology problems that might arise.

“None of this is an ideal situation,” Fuhrey said. “ I, too, am a parent of a Newton County School System student, and I understand the frustration you may be experiencing.

“Together we can accomplish anything. We will get through this, but it will require that everyone takes a deep breath and understands that no one on our Newton County School System team is enjoying not serving our students in the most traditional way, and that’s in person,” she continued. “We are looking very much forward to transitioning to that model as quickly and safely as possible.”

Fuhrey also noted that the school system is continuing to work to provide a computer device and internet access to students who do not have their own. She said the school system is awaiting delivery of 6,200 Chromebooks; the order has been delayed due to the high demand from school systems throughout the country. To date, Fuhrey said the school system has provided more than 11,000 devices to students and about 2,000 internet access resources.

On Tuesday evening at the Board of Education work session, Fuhrey shared some numbers that illustrate the magnitude of providing online learning for an entire school district. Fuhrey said the school system has deployed 1,506 mobile hotspot devices to students; 722 of them were in use on Tuesday while 784 were not in use. Fuhrey said the school system would explore the devices that were not in use and provide support where necessary or redeploy the device where it is needed.

She said the school system conducted 2,816 Zoom meetings on Tuesday, serving 65,558 participants. The Zoom meetings totaled 2,662,579 minutes.

“Today, in spite of the challenges we faced with our partner AT&T, we experienced a lot of usage, a lot of connectivity, and a lot of people doing their part,” said Fuhrey.

At Tuesday night’s work session, the board approved a couple of additional measures designed to continue to expand the system’s virtual learning capabilities.

The board approved a month-to-month contract addendum with Spectrum Enterprise to provide internet connectivity to as many as 1,200 households in the school district that do not have internet access. The contract is not to exceed $36,077 per month and will be paid through CARES Act funding. In households approved for the Spectrum connectivity, parents will assume responsibility for the equipment.

In addition, the board approved a contract for $178,668 with Kajeet for 500 internet mobile hotspot devices to further provide internet access for students. Again, this contract will be paid through CARES Act funding, and parents will assume responsibility for the equipment.

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I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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