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Sioux City School District Sends Wi-Fi Out Into Communities While Kids Are Home From School

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Cannon Air Force Base
The Sioux City Community School District is sending school buses and vans equipped with Wi-Fi out into communities.

The Sioux City Community School District has deployed Wi-Fi hotspots into some communities by school buses and vans to make internet access more equitable while school buildings are closed.
Sioux City students have been doing voluntary continuous learning from home while schools are closed for the rest of the school year to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Elementary school students get a new learning packet every two weeks, either physically or digitally delivered. Middle and high school students get a new packet each week. With that, Superintendent Paul Gausman said COVID-19 has put a magnifying glass over some of the biggest inequities in education. That includes internet connectivity.

“I don’t think people understand how large a number don’t have internet connectivity as a regular component of their daily lives,” Gausman said.

About 20 percent of the school district’s more-than 14,000 students don’t have regular access to the internet, Gausman said. The district recently started sending school buses and vans equipped with Wi-Fi to six mobile home parks and apartments. The vehicles stay there for three hours a day, Monday through Friday.

“You would need to get near a vehicle that is a Wi-Fi hotspot so that you could get into the internet, download the things you need to, go back and work on them, bring them back, and if for some reason you need to upload something back, that’s how we’re making that system work,” Gausman said.

Gausman said the school district decided to send the vehicles with Wi-Fi to areas where students ride the bus to school and there isn’t an easy way for them to get to a school building by themselves.

The district had already boosted the Wi-Fi signal at seven schools, so people can access the internet from the parking lots. Additionally, Gausman said the school district gave individual hotspots to high school students who are enrolled in college courses, where their schoolwork is still required and they’re learning online.

Other school districts in Iowa have done similar things. The Ames Community School District expanded the reach of its Wi-Fi at some schools so people can access the internet from a parking lot. School buses in the Burlington Community School District are functioning as Wi-Fi hotspots for students.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.