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Rural Washington school districts struggle with moving classes online due to lack of internet access

15% of North Mason families don't have in-home internet access, making it difficult for students to learn remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BELFAIR, Wash. — While many Washington school districts announce plans to reopen instruction only with remote learning in September, that option is problematic for a district like North Mason.

Superintendent Dana Rosenbach said 15% of her district’s families do not have the ability to connect to the internet at home.

The district’s financial director, Ashley Murphy, is one of them.

"It’s not that we have slow internet, it’s the fact we have zero,” said Murphy, who has four children at her Tayuha home where they cannot get internet service.

In the spring she drove her children to hot spots and her office to access wifi.

If classes go online only in September, she thinks she’ll send her kids to a friend’s house so they can log on. But, she knows that could put her family at risk for COVID-19 exposure.

"I have a son who’s 15 who fears he’s going to be a super senior because he’s not going to pass his classes because he doesn’t have access to the internet," said Murphy.

RELATED: In-person or remote learning in fall? Check this list for western Washington school districts

State Senator Reuven Carlyle said he is working to get state and federal funding to improve broadband access, purchase computers and increase the number of hot spots in communities without internet service.

"We have 1.1 million students statewide and every single one of them needs access,” said Carlyle, D-Seattle

While Carlyle called it a top priority, he said it’s not realistic that every student in the state can go online this September.

He said federal funding could help bridge the gap.

Carlyle is encouraging everyone in the state to take the state’s broadband survey to establish what parts of the state are in need of improvement.

Carlyle said the survey at broadband.wa.gov could help the state get federal funding to help increase internet access.

North Mason’s superintendent said the state needs to do more, this summer, to help the districts like hers.

"We think it’s a solution that shouldn’t be that hard to come up with," said Rosenbach. "Let’s get some people out to rural communities, let’s dig ditches, put fiber in and get it done."

RELATED: CDC releases 'Decision-Making Tool' for parents in school reopening guidance

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