School bus

Cellular hotspots are now available to the public in parking lots at four Charles County public schools: Piccowaxen Middle, Matthew Henson Middle, Mt. Hope Nanjemoy Elementary and T.C. Martin Elementary.

Charles County Public Schools partnered with AT&T FirstNet to purchase and set up public access WiFi cellular hotspots at the four schools, according to a school press release. CCPS chose the hotspot locations using information from its recent student technology survey, Comcast and Verizon hotspot maps, and a recent broadband survey county government conducted to determine the areas in highest need.

“CCPS created the hotspots to support both the needs of our students and staff as well as members of the community. Service is free to the public and CCPS will keep the hotspots active throughout the public health crisis,” Superintendent Kimberly Hill said in the release.

Internet users can park in the front parking lot of the schools, remain in their cars and complete essential work on the internet, Jason Stoddard, director of school safety and security, said in the release.

The hotspots will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Stoddard said the school system is asking that users do not use the hotspots to stream videos.

The school system uses video surveillance to monitor parking lots and the exteriors of all school buildings, and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office will regularly patrol the areas around schools. The schools are closed to the public, but critical staff members are still working.

CCPS is using grant funds provided by the Maryland Center for School Safety to cover the initial costs of the project, according to the release. The CCPS offices of instructional technology, transportation and school safety and security worked to complete the project within a week.

“This is a temporary solution to provide access to our communities who don’t have internet access capabilities or a large amount of nearby public access hotspots,” Hill said in the release. CCPS is continuing to work with AT&T FirstNet to increase signal strength and bandwidth throughout the deployment.

The CCPS instructional technology team is working on a more permanent solution for public access WiFi at schools located in or near school communities with the most need.

Here are the directions to access the hotspot:

• Pull into the front parking lot.

• Open your WiFi connection or network connection screen.

• Look for the network name “Public Access.”

• The network password is CharlesCounty (one word, the letter C is capitalized both times). A password is necessary so Apple devices can connect.