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Students Burned Through Data So Fast That Kansas City Public Schools Just Upgraded

Ray Weikal
Kansas City Public Schools
The Kansas City Public Schools has handed out more than 6,000 T-Mobile hot spots to students. The district is working to get additional hot spots to families whose children have been sharing.

The district purchased the devices when they still thought this school year would start in person, but since everyone is learning virtually, students need more data.

The Kansas City Public Schools will double how much they’re spending on hot spots so students have enough data to complete online assignments.

At an emergency meeting Friday, district technology director Joe Phillips explained how just two weeks into the school year, some families – especially those with multiple children sharing a hot spot – had already experienced throttling.

“We’ve been swapping them out for new hot spots,” Phillips told the school board. “We don’t really have students right now that are in an outage in terms of Wi-Fi, but if we go another couple of weeks, we’ll actually be in the situation where we’re running out of data.”

The district’s initial $210,000 contract with T-Mobile was for 2 gigabytes of data each for about 6,000 devices. To get unlimited data for students, the district will have to increase their spending to $420,000, money Superintendent Mark Bedell said was available in the information technology budget. He said the district set aside funds originally earmarked to buy teachers new computers for this type of scenario.

“We're not in a 911 situation, but we will have these emergency meetings if things pop up that we need to address,” Bedell said.

He also said that when KCPS ordered the hot spots this spring, the district expected students to be back in school buildings by now. The district made the decision to start the school year remotely in mid-July when it became clear that the Kansas City area was facing uncontrolled coronavirus spread.

New school reopening guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week put the Kansas City area in the highest risk category for coronavirus transmission in schools. Bedell has said he has to consider the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on Black and Latino families. About 90% of KCPS students are children of color.

It will take T-Mobile about 72 hours to calibrate the hot spots students and their families already have for unlimited data. Phillips said KCPS is in the process of getting additional hotspots to families with multiple students so that siblings don’t have to share bandwidth.

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