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Martins Ferry schools seek a technology grant

T-L File Photo Martins Ferry City Schools board member Nick Stankovich and Superintendent Jim Fogle review business during a board meeting. Plans for the coming school year are going forward, with the district aiming for a grant to extend broadband access to students.

MARTINS FERRY — In preparation for the upcoming school year, the Martins Ferry City Schools District is aiming for a grant to provide instruments and more internet access to students in need of connection.

Bruce Hotlotz, technology coordinator, said the district must keep up with technology demands.

“We have about 1,500 ChromeBooks now, but a lot of them, 500 or 600 of them are aging out, getting to the end of life, so we’d like to replace those. They quit getting updates,” he said.

Hotlotz said the district will be applying for ChromeBooks and home broadband internet access for students who qualify. The district will release a survey soon for people to fill out.

“We’re hoping to get at least 100 ChromeBooks and pay for 100 broadband access for students at home,” Hotlotz said. “This is for students to learn online. … It’s a government program that Congress just passed.”

The FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund is a $7.17 billion program designed to help schools and libraries provide tools and services needed by communities for remote learning during the COVID-19 emergency.

For eligible schools and libraries, the ECF program covers reasonable costs of laptop and tablet computers, WiFi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connectivity purchases for off-campus use.

Congress authorized the ECF as part of the American Rescue Plan.

“The deadline to apply is the middle of August, and then about a month later they will send you a funding commitment, whether you’ve got funding or not, so I’m thinking mid-September to early October,” he said.

Hotlotz estimates there could be 200 to 300 households that qualify for the program.

“We know it’s a lot, but we’re hoping they’ll fill out the survey to find out just how many,” he said. “It could be a lot.”

He said the survey should be on the district’s website at mfcsd.k12.oh.us shortly before school begins.

“About Aug. 20 or so, maybe sooner, but it hard to get people to fill out surveys for school if they’re not in school,” he said.

“We’re always looking to secure as much grant funds as we can to provide our students with internet access,” Superintendent Jim Fogle said. “In addition, we’re one-to-one with the ChromeBooks, so every student has their own ChromeBook, and I think as far as internet access, we’ve found a lot out about that with the pandemic, when we had to resort to remote learning.”

A private company is currently planning to lay fiber throughout Belmont County, starting in the Union Local School District area in the Belmont and Morristown area. Fogle said this might also eventually benefit the Martins Ferry schools.

The school year will begin Aug. 23 and Aug. 24 with teacher in-service days, and students will be in class Aug. 25.

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