An internet hot spot device is shown after being delivered to the library at Nikki Rowe High School on Friday in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — Although the McAllen school district announced a return to some in-person classes by the end of the month on Friday, the district is still preparing itself for a school year heavy in blended learning where the importance of Wi-Fi and technology have never been more apparent.

According to a news release, a small number of students who have been selected based on need will be invited to participate in a controlled face-to-face educational setting at McAllen ISD starting Sept. 21.

No specific start date for in-school instruction of all district students has been set, the release says, and the timeline of the district’s in-person reopening is contingent on the health environment of Hidalgo County and direction from the Texas Education Agency.

Although subject to change, district guidance indicates that parents will be able to choose whether their students attend on campus, remotely or through a combination of the two by Oct. 19.

Students will not be required to attend and the number of students will be limited, the release says, noting that other students will continue working from home.

The district continued action to aid those students Friday, distributing 5,500 hot spot devices to campuses, an initiative meant to help students learn virtually.

Lisa Cavazos, director of student outreach for the district, says that those hot spots will be made available to families through curbside pickup, and that about the district has ordered about 11,000 more that have not arrived yet.

Cavazos says those hot spots will play an important role even with some students’ return to campus being imminent.

“In my mind, regardless of some kids coming back or all kids coming back, although no dates have been shared as to when that could possibly happen, the fact remains that the state of Texas is giving parents a choice,” she said. “Whether schools are open or not, parents are going to have a choice, my choice is come to school in-person or continue on virtual learning and I don’t have a reliable internet connection at home, I don’t actually have a choice.”

Having the access to those hot spots will give parents that choice, Cavazos said.

Cavazos, a parent, says that that choice between online and in-person instruction will be important as the district begins to phase in on-campus instruction.

Internet hot spots are delivered to the library by McAllen ISD workers at Nikki Rowe High School on Friday in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

“At no time during the school year will the district ever say you ‘must come to school in person.’ That’s a parent right that comes to us through the state of Texas,” she said.

According to Cavazos, the importance of internet connectivity isn’t likely to diminish even when the pandemic recedes and on-campus instruction becomes more feasible. The internet is simply essential to education, she says.

“It means being able to connect to the internet opens students to a world of resources, for students to do their schoolwork, do their research, to be able to connect with each other,” she said. “In the year 2020, it feels like internet should be a commodity like lights or water, it’s just that important. COVID just adds to that importance.”

Hot spots are available to all families, Cavazos says. If they’re interested in one, they should contact their child’s campus.