EDENTON — Six area school districts and two public charter schools will split $500,000 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding allocated by the N.C. General Assembly.
State Rep. Ed Goodwin, R-Chowan, held a press conference Thursday with officials from the districts and schools to announce the $500,000 CARES allocation. Most said they plan to use the funding to expand access for students to broadband internet service.
The districts receiving CARES Act funding include Bertie County Schools, $107,712; Camden County Schools, $98,702; Edenton-Chowan Schools, $99,645; Perquimans County Schools, $82,529; Washington County Schools, $68,258; and the Tyrrell County Schools, $34,028.
Also receiving CARES funding are two charter schools: Three Rivers Academy in Bertie, $3,961; and The Pocosin Innovative Center, $7,059.
The allocations were based on each district’s or school’s average daily enrollment.
“This money ... is a significant appropriation for our schools and the students,” Goodwin said. “Earmarked for nutrition, technology and transportation, this funding will be a significant impact for all of us. I am very grateful to have been a part of this. It’s $500,000 that you didn’t have before that’s being spread out among you — I think it’s fantastic.”
Camden County Schools Superintendent Joe Ferrell thanked Goodwin for his district’s appropriation. He said his district’s challenge is improving access to broadband internet.
“We certainly have in Camden some of the same challenges as everyone else,” he said. “The biggest issue that we face right now is connectivity for the students who either are on Plan C (remote-only instruction) by choice or because we are on Plan C at some of our schools. We are very grateful for the resources and for the support from Representative Goodwin.”
Perquimans County Schools Superintendent Tanya Tucker also thanked Goodwin for her district’s appropriation. “Perquimans is grateful for the funds received,” she said.
Turner and other superintendents discussed a list of needs they can use the money for — everything from extending and improving the quality of internet access for remote learning to plugging holes in strained transportation and food nutrition budgets.
“I think everyone in rural northeastern North Carolina is going to have the same theme as far as what they need the money for: transportation, technology, child nutrition,” Turner said.
No matter which plan a school system employs regarding in-class and/or remote learning, improving internet access and connectivity are top priorities.
“The continual work and the burdens of providing access to make sure there is equity in our connectivity in providing hot spots and ensuring that we can provide cellular service — these are all things that these dollars will be able to support moving forward,” Edenton-Chowan Schools Superintendent Michael Sasscer said.
Tyrrell County Schools Superintendent Oliver Hardy also discussed his district’s challenges providing students with internet access.
“Once you get right outside — not even half a mile outside Columbia — cell phone service is horrible,” he said. “One of the things we have been fighting is looking at WiFi hotspots. The state, thank-you, did a wonderful job of providing hotspots and companies have stepped up, but WiFi hotspots run on cellular service. Where cellphone service is not going to work, we’re actually looking at being able to use some of this funding to look at satellite options as well. That is one of the things we’ve definitely been talking about as well for a long time — how can we expand broadband into Tyrrell County.”
Turner echoed that point.
“When we closed school in March, we didn’t have the hotspot availability to help our students connect from home,” she said. “Where we are now compared to where were in March is drastically different and it’s because of the money we’ve been able to get to provide the services and be more prepared to serve our children remotely than where we were in March. We’re very appreciative of this money. Everything that we’re getting has definitely helped serving our children much more effectively than what we did in March.”
Washington County Schools Superintendent Linda Jewell-Carr said her district will use the state grant money providing subscription services to families that do not have internet service as well as adding more WiFi hotspots. She said in some cases, larger families have to determine a pecking order for who uses livestream WiFi.
The school district is working on ways to allow multiple children in the same household to access their classes, Jewell-Carr said.