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STANISLAUS COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — Internet access for students, or the lack thereof, has long been a concern for Patterson educators. 

It’s been referred to as the digital divide, where some students have access and some do not.

Patterson Joint Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Jeffery Menge said the issue took on new urgency when they were forced to go remote because of the pandemic.

Distance learning begins Sept. 8. 

“Now, their entire everything is online, you know,” Menge told FOX40. “So, those students who don’t have access, you know, it’s a huge issue they wouldn’t have access to their class or their teacher to do any of those one-on-one check-ins.”

The district is partnering with Motorola to install 10 broadband towers across the district’s eight campuses to provide students and faculty with free internet access for years to come. 

The more rural schools will have two. 

“You’re losing that in-person, that face to face,” Menge said. “And so, it’s even more important to have high level of connectivity so they can do the small group work, they can do one-on-ones with their teacher or aide if they have concerns.”

While the school district did have some money set aside for a tower or two, CARES Act funding will allow them to install all 10.

Menge said giving students access to reliable and fast internet is a top priority. 

“Students are our future and we’re continuing to try to invest in that,” he said. “And not just financially but time and effort and everything we do is really centered around ensuring the success of our students.”

The first tower is expected to be online by Sept. 1. The remaining nine towers are scheduled to be installed in the next six to eight weeks. 

Some parents are concerned the towers may cause cancer or other health issues. A petition to stop the installation has gained more than 300 signatures over the last two weeks. 

However, according to the American Cancer Society, there is no strong evidence that exposure to cell towers has any health impacts.