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Idaho Schools Scramble To Keep Internet With IEN Shutdown Looming

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Idaho Education News has reported that half of the students taking classes through the Idaho Education Network are in five school districts.

Idaho schools are scrambling to keep the Internet on for the rest of the school year. Lawmakers say the Idaho Education Network (IEN) will go offline as early as Sunday and districts need to make deals with local providers, or lose their internet connections.

The statewide program to get broadband in schools has been in jeopardy since a judge declared the state’s contract with internet service providers illegal  last November.

Idaho’s budget writing lawmakers Tuesday voted to set aside $3.64 million for school districts to pay for Internet services through June 30.

Cassia School District’s Debbie Critchfield says if that money doesn’t make it through the legislative process, it will be difficult to keep Internet running in Cassia’s five high schools.

“It would have to come out of our general fund, and that would be a challenge,” Critchfield says. “Our dollars are distributed and budgeted and watched very tightly and closely. And there is no extra cushion, so to speak.”

Critchfield says the district has secured federal funding for broadband next school year. In the meantime, the district estimates it will cost about $5,000 a month to keep Internet services running through June.

Cassia is one of the districts that has relied most on the IEN in the last few years. Critchfield says the district uses the IEN in all its high schools, but some, like Declo High, rely on it for courses required for graduation.

“Of their 80 seniors they actually have 67 seniors that are enrolled in online math class and the teacher is actually out of another high school in our district,” she says.

Critchfield says there are companies willing to cover all Cassia schools. However, Critchfield - who is also a member of Idaho’s State Board of Education - worries that some districts won’t find providers.

Critchfield says the district is trying to negotiate a deal with local providers as quickly as possible, but there could be a period of time where schools don’t have Internet. So, the district is brainstorming backup plans like shuttling teachers around the 2,000-plus square-mile district.

“We are not going to punish our seniors,” she says. “Our students will be able to finish their courses. As far as the actual electronic delivery systems…we’re working on that.”

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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