HISD kids still not getting the Internet access they lost

Just another thing by the wayside.

Houston ISD has not provided at-home internet service to the vast majority of students who relied on a free Verizon program that the district canceled three months ago, leaving some of Houston’s most vulnerable children disconnected.

About 50 of the 1,000 students who were relying on the program for at-home internet have received T-Mobile hotspots that the district offered as a replacement to needy students, according to email records and a district spokesperson.

HISD officials said the hotspots remain available to students. But district leaders and staff have not successfully coordinated to outfit children with the new service since November.

“If school staff identify a student who needs home internet access, staff should contact the campus technologist so that HISD can provide a hotspot for that student,” HISD Chief Communications Officer Leila Walsh wrote in an email.

HISD promised the T-Mobile hotspots after district leaders opted to end the Verizon program, citing an unacceptable amount of training required for school officials carrying out the effort. Roughly 56,500 students and 2,500 teachers across 36 HISD campuses received iPads or laptops equipped with data plans since the initiative launched in 2020, Verizon officials said.

Most students at participating schools connected their computers at home to wireless internet installed by their families. However, HISD officials determined about 1,000 students regularly used internet service built into the devices for web access, indicating their families may not have wireless internet at home.

Verizon shut off the built-in internet service on its donated devices on Nov. 17, three weeks after HISD decided to no longer participate in the program. Schools and students were allowed to keep the provided laptops and tablets, but their data plans were deactivated.

In the weeks after students lost internet access, HISD officials acknowledged they had fallen short on communicating with families about the hotspot opportunity. HISD Chief Technology Officer Scott Gilhousen told the Houston Landing in early December that it “will be for us to communicate more with our campuses to inform them that there are opportunities.”

But emails obtained by the Landing through a public records request also show few campus leaders requested hotspots for their students.


The T-Mobile hotspots HISD promoted as a replacement to the Verizon services cost the district $15 per student per month, the Houston Chronicle reported.

HISD officials said they are looking into more permanent solutions for addressing internet access disparities.

“We are having conversations with community partners so that we eliminate the digital divide for entire neighborhoods, not just individual students,” Walsh said.

See here (third story) and here for the background. All but one of those 50 students cited who were able to get new hotspots did so because one teacher (Brad Wray, who is also on the District Advisory Committee) took it upon himself to go through the process from start to finish, which included him driving to HISD’s central office to pick up the hotspots and distribute them to the kids. Not exactly a stretch to say there’s gotta be a better way to do it than that. But first HISD needs to get its act together and decide that this is a thing they want to do. Less talk, more do.

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