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10,000 State Laptops Head To Panhandle Schools, 77% Of Liberty Students To Get Devices

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Vernon Chan

The Florida Department of Education is sending out more than 32,000 laptops to school districts to help students with distance learning. About a third of the devices are coming to schools in Florida’s panhandle. In Liberty County, more than 70% of the district’s students will get state-purchased computers.

The laptops are going to 32 small and rural school districts. Ten North Florida counties are getting 10,000 of the devices. According to data from the Panhandle Area Education Consortium. Jackson is getting 2,000 systems, Wakulla 1,500.  Liberty, Gulf and Gadsden Counties are receiving 1,000 each. Getting the computers is only one part of the equation. For Liberty County Schools, the other part is ensuring students have internet access.

“In most counties, your phone company provides the internet access, but In Liberty County I’m past the end of their line and they don’t send internet to me. So I get internet from my dish service," explained Liberty Superintendent David Summers.

In terms of land area, Liberty is a large county but its sparsely populated and only has about 1,300 students. While Leon County Schools saw 94% of its students log on in the first week of distance learning, less than half of Liberty County students have been able to do the same so far.

“The problem is, the majority of us, including me, are at the low end of internet service and there’s a problem of losing connections and not being able to sustain a communication line…and that’s common across the county," Summers said.

The district hasn’t yet received its laptops and hotspots from the state, but they are on the way which will boost the district’s ability to fully go digital. Liberty is also applying for a grant to purchase cradlepoints. These devices would be sent out on school buses to varying parts of the county, creating a giant wifi system for students without internet to access.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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