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Families struggle to get computers, Wi-Fi as school start dates approach

Districts are working to give out laptops and hotspots, but it could be months before they arrive.

FORT WORTH, Texas — The line of cars wrapped around William James Middle School and down Nashville Avenue Tuesday.

Fort Worth Independent School District selected 125 families out of a lottery pool to get free, refurbished laptops - a necessity for schoolwork, especially now.

Another 125 will get them Thursday as part of a partnership with TXU Energy and Comp-U-Dopt, but the reality is thousands in just one district need them.

Every one of the 125 families that lined up on Nashville Avenue have a similar story.

“With the COVID pandemic, it’s vital because then the students are not receiving any instruction if they do not have a device," Estela Jaquez said. 

RELATED: Dallas ISD to purchase 12,000 WiFi hotspots to help students continue distance learning during COVID-19 pandemic

Jaquez had a laptop assigned to her and an appointment time scheduled in the drive-thru giveaway, but she still arrived an hour early – just in case. She’s both a district teacher and a parent of an 8th grader who together shared one computer this spring.

“It was tough for me to teach using the same laptop and him also doing his schoolwork,” she said. “Having this opportunity is going to help my son, and I feel bad for my students who aren’t eligible.”

Many of her students didn’t get devices in the spring.

“They worked online instruction with their mothers’ cellphones,” she said.

Fort Worth ISD has spent millions ordering 16,000 hotspots and thousands of Chromebooks. Dallas ISD is giving families devices, too, but it could be months before they get here and into the hands of families.

RELATED: As the pandemic continues, it's time to see the internet as a utility

Willie Mack’s four kids shared a single laptop in the spring taking turns of 30 minutes each. He was also selected to receive a laptop.  

“Oh man it was rough, especially when you got four,” Mack said. “It’s going to help a lot, so I can have two of them on each Chromebook.”

Fort Worth ISD will still be online only for at least the first four weeks of school beginning September 8, but families without internet or devices may not be able to do that.

RELATED: Burleson ISD to start remotely Aug. 31 | See full list of district plans

Janesia Clayton decided to keep her three kids home this semester and also needed a laptop.

“You know it’s everyone’s choice, but just my personal choice is for my kids to stay home, she said. “Obviously it was a big need for this.”