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Internet tower in Nespelem may help address education inequity

The Colville Tribes is working to address the problem of students in the Nespelem area not having access to the internet while schools are switching to a distance-learning model of education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Nespelem School District board of directors Aug. 26 approved allowing the Tribes to build an internet tower on school grounds, something that Superintendent/Principal Effie Dean said would bring internet access to the town of Nespelem. And beyond the town people could create “hotspots” using their phones, altogether bringing access to approximately 70% of the school’s student body. 

“It seems like a wonderful thing,” Dean told the board regarding the project. 

A lack of internet access has been an issue brought up by school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic in both the Nespelem and Grand Coulee Dam school districts. 

The districts, aiming towards an equity in distance learning amongst their student bodies, have discussed at their school board meetings the inequity between students with internet access in homes receiving an education, and those without internet access.

Students with internet have more ability to research, communicate, and more for their education, while students who do not have internet are restricted to pen and paper, packets, receiving assignments on flash drives, and communicating with teachers via telephone.

Dean explained that the tower would be temporary, and a permanent tower would be built later. 

The tribe was unable to share more detailed information such as the costs of the tower, a timeline, or if they would be helping families pay to receive the internet access at their homes. Neeka Somday, media contact for the Colville Business Council, said that more information should be available later this month.

In a recent school board meeting, Grand Coulee Dam School District Superintendent Paul Turner, along with board Director Ken Stanger, discussed the possibility of pursuing grant money from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction that would help families to pay for internet access. 


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