San Francisco races to provide internet access, devices to students in time for distance learning

With San Francisco Unified School District shifting to distance learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, the district wants to make sure all its students have access to the internet at home. 

The school district, in conjunction with nonprofits EducationSuperHighway and 1Million Project Foundation, is deploying up to 25 WiFi "SuperSpots" to provide connectivity support to thousands of students. 

As part of the new Digital Bridge project, the SuperSpots will be installed in locations to serve students from underserved communities who need to participate in online learning due to COVID-19 related school closure, the city said. 

Additionally, San Francisco is working to secure and deploy additional WiFi hotspots, which will complement the new SuperSpots and the existing free, high-speed internet provided to low-income residents through San Francisco’s Fiber to Housing program. 

The SuperSpot devices will be placed in areas of highest need, including public housing sites, single-room occupancy buildings, community centers, and other neighborhood locations where there is a concentrated population of students lacking internet connectivity. 

The devices will be rolled out the week off April 13 in time for when online classes begin after spring break. 

“Every student in San Francisco needs to be able to stay connected to their teachers and classmates and keep learning as they stay home with their families during this time, regardless of where they live or if their family can afford to pay for high-speed internet,” said Mayor Breed. 

The installation of the SuperSpot devices and operating costs are fully covered by nonprofits 1Million Project Foundation and EducationSuperHighway.  

SFUSD estimates that up to 10,000 students in grades 3-12 need access to a device and WiFi to support distance learning at home. And that 29% of students don't have internet access at home. 

Over the past two weeks, the school district has distributed more than 5,400 devices to students purchased with funds donated by individuals, foundations and corporations. SFUSD anticipates another 4,000 students will need devices and will continue to make them available to students in preparation for the April 13th launch of the District’s distance learning plan, which will incorporate teacher-led, interactive distance learning that will rely on technology access at home, the city said.