Jefferson County Schools Plan to Expand Broadband to Serve Students Learning Virtually

Jefferson County county manager Tony Petelos. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Help is on the way for remote learners who have had little to no access to Wi-Fi.

Meeting in Bessemer Thursday, the Jefferson County Commission amended the Cares Act Coronavirus Relief Fund subgrant agreement with the Jefferson County Board of Education to award an additional $4,648,600 to expand broadband capacity to reach students taking classes virtually.

“In large portions of Jefferson County, we don’t have acceptable Wi-Fi,” county manager Tony Petelos said after the meeting. “Jefferson County Schools is having a real problem with it. This will help bring offsite learning to all the students by having this.”

Commissioner Joe Knight questioned why the matter came up as new business Thursday and discussed during Tuesday’s committee meeting, as usually is done. Petelos said the county is under a tight constraint because the funds need to be disbursed before Dec. 30.

“That’s why we had to bring it up as new business today as we’re still working out the details,” the county manager said. “We got word from our consultant that, yes, this was acceptable. It was late (Wednesday) afternoon.”

Statewide, Alabama schools are at risk of losing up to $170 million in coronavirus funding approved by Congress because it must be spent before the end of the year. Officials have cited supply chain delays and a complicated process to claim the money as reasons for not having spent that money.