BISD getting close to digital parity

Brownsville families arrive with their children for free backpacks and school supplies as Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) in partnership with Brownsville Police Dpartment, BCFS Health and Human Services, and The Tooth Place host a back to school community outreach drive-thru Saturday morning at the Brownsville Sports Park. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

One week into the 2020-2021 school year, the Brownsville Independent School District is a week or two away from having all of the electronic devices it needs to conduct instruction 100% via computers and the internet.

School meals are being distributed at all 34 elementary schools and at designated neighborhood pickup spots, with the high schools to start meal distribution on Wednesday.

And anyone who still lacks an internet connection or device can get their lessons via an instructional packet until digital supplies are fulfilled.

That’s according to Nellie Cantu, BISD deputy superintendent for Business & Operations, who said Apple representatives have told her BISD’s order of 6,000 iPads is about two weeks away. The same is true for Dell Computer, which owes the district about 6,000 Chromebooks, she said. The iPads are for younger students, the Chromebooks for anyone in third-grade or higher.

It may sound like a lot of computers, but with 43,000 students and virtually every school district in the United States having similar needs, BISD is in fairly good shape, she said. Meanwhile, the district has requested 8,500 internet hotspots through Verizon and is waiting on them.

A hotspot is an electronic device that enables a computer to connect to the internet by way of cellular telephone networks. Many of the Chromebooks and iPads BISD is distributing to students will need a hotspot to connect. The Texas Education Agency is providing that access free for one year, and possibly more depending on how long the coronavirus pandemic lasts, Cantu said.

BISD is also providing internet accesss via 20 school buses equipped with hotspots, which as many as 128 students per bus can use to connect to their classes.

Transportation Director Eliud Ornelas said the hotspot buses were being fitted with banners to inform the public they are internet hotspots and available for use. The buses are being deployed into neighborhoods where the district knows there is a need for student internet access. About a half-dozen students were using each of the buses Monday morning, he said, adding that more students are connecting every day and some of the buses were being moved around to places with the best connectivity.

glong@brownsilleherald.com