Wi-Fi on Buses is Not New, Just Better Some school districts have had Wi-Fi capabilities

on their school buses for the better part of a decade, beginning when it was considered a luxury that only a select few could afford. Flood said Wi-Fi use was “definitely” growing

quickly even before COVID-19, but the onslaught of the virus changed the way the technology was applied.

“Buses were being parked in communities as hotspots,” Flood observed. “Instead of directing the Wi-Fi signal inside the bus, they were parking the buses and directing the Wi-Fi signal outside and around the bus. Mostly it was parking the school bus in a parking lot and people would drive up in cars. Some school districts would have a staff person there to help students with questions, distribute instruc- tional materials or even food in some cases. The transportation departments became very creative in how they handled the buses.” Flood said the Wi-Fi signal can be broadcast up to

300 feet in an open-air environment. He said the sig- nal’s ability to penetrate a building would depend upon the building materials. He added that COVID-19 had caused a spike in the purchase of Wi-Fi equipment. “Absolutely we have seen an increase. We had

more than 700 deployments in various district fleets before COVID,” Flood said. “We are up over 1,500 de- ployments now. That was the impact of COVID.” The Beekmantown Central School District in

New York began installing Wi-Fi equipment on the district’s 40 buses six years ago, explained Gary Lam- bert, the district’s director of 21st Century Learning. “We started with wireless hotspots,” Lambert began. “Then we recognized buses were truly an extension of the school property and anytime we could add to a student’s opportunity for learning whether it’s an athlete on a trip to a sporting event or a student who didn’t get their homework done, they would have an opportunity to do so on the bus.” Lambert added that it took about two years to get Beekmantown’s 40 buses outfitted, and during that time Chromebooks were purchased and distributed to students. He said that not only did the move pay dividends academically, but it also impacted disci- pline on the buses. “We all know that when students have nothing

to do and have idle time on their hands that not all students make the best choices,” Lambert said. “But if you give them opportunities to focus their attention on positive activities, the return is that the inappro- priate behaviors do not completely disappear, but they are minimized.”

26 School Transportation News • SEPTEMBER 2021

IC Bus and Kajeet announced a partnership earlier this year to provide Wi-Fi hotspots free of charge for one year on all newly purchased electric models.

Lambert said the only irony with FCC releasing funds is the district is paid upfront for a year with New York state grants, which makes it ineligible to use ECF funds. “I haven’t seen any areas where we would be able to use this,” he noted. A positive outcome, Lambert said, is that during the time COVID-19’s grip on the nation was academically penalizing low-income and rural students by forcing them to stay home, Beekmantown loaned three buses to the neighboring Peru Central School District, which parked the buses in strategic community locations so residents could avail themselves of the mobile hotspots. “That was an example of cooperation be- tween districts when there is a need,” Lambert said. Meanwhile, Janet Ulrich, transportation director for

Aurora Public Schools near Denver, called the FCC decision good news, even though her district began testing Wi-Fi equipment on its buses three years ago and 75 of their general route buses are currently equipped. She said her district will pursue additional ECF monies for safety and security reasons. “My first thought after I heard about the FCC’s action was that we should jump on it,” Ulrich said. “We want Wi-Fi for kids to do homework, but we’re also trying to see if there is a way to tap into our camera system so we can get live feeds from onboard the buses in case of emergencies. We are currently working with our grant


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