GREENSBORO — Guilford County bought 79,000 laptops and iPads, enough to loan one to almost every student, teacher and teacher assistant for remote learning this school year.
Problem is, school starts for most students on Monday, and the majority of the devices won't be ready until at least December.
The roughly $35 million investment comes as the district scrambles to support students learning at home and to prepare for a potential switch to hybrid instruction, where students split their time between classroom and remote learning in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
For now, with remote learning planned for at least the first nine weeks of school, students will use an assortment of devices: some personal, some loaned by the district or donated by nonprofits, and many shared with siblings or parents. Beginning Aug. 31, about a dozen schools will welcome some students back into buildings to use school Wi-Fi and computers.
A batch of new iPads the district ordered in the spring will be among the devices the district loans to students when classes begin for most students on Monday.
The district has been advised that the other 66,000 devices would be delivered by December, said Angie Henry, the district's chief of finances and operations. But she said other school districts have seen delays to their expected delivery dates during the pandemic, and there are still other steps that have to take place before the computers get to students.
Henry said the district ordered 13,000 devices this spring, but had to wait for other funding to fall into place to order the others.
"We moved as quickly as we could," she said.
More than half the cost comes from federal coronavirus assistance.
County commissioners approved using $10 million the county got in federal CARES Act pandemic assistance money to buy student devices. That's the entire amount it set aside for the district. The district put in $9 million of the $20 million of CARES Act money it got separately from the federal government. The rest the district pulled together from other sources, such as state coronavirus assistance and local funding in its regular budget.
The $35 million is a substantial investment, similar to the cost of constructing a new elementary school.
They look to keep using the devices for years, and to pay for a partial replacement each year, so the district never gets caught in a situation again where it does not have enough devices for its students to learn from home if needed.
Henry said the district is still discussing whether to loan them to students completely free or to require families to give some kind of deposit that would be refunded when the device is returned. They will have the power to take control of the devices remotely if needed, another potential tool if one disappears.
They fell short of getting enough money for 83,000 devices, which would have covered every student, teacher and instructional assistant in the district, with room to account for some devices breaking and new students.
They are still seeking another $2.4 million to get almost 4,000 more devices, Henry said, specifically more iPads and MacBook Airs to help finish covering the younger grades.
The idea is for every kindergarten through third grade student to be issued an iPad, and every K-3 teacher a MacBook Air. All the fourth through 12th grade students are set to get Lenovo Chromebooks and their staff will get Lenovo Thinkpads.
Apple and Lenovo won bidding processes to supply the devices.
Since March, families, the school district, and nonprofits have worked together to provide students devices to learn from home. Some students have been using a family computer while others got one on loan from the school district or one to keep from a local nonprofit partnership.
Many families have continued to see challenges, such as struggling with multiple family members needing to simultaneously share one device.
Henry said that the school district wanted to get new devices for everyone, rather than just students who don't have a laptop yet, because they are looking ahead to when students are back learning part or full time in school.
The vision, she said, is for students to bring their school device to and from school. Having students bring their own device from home would cause technology headaches for the district, including issues with how the devices would securely connect to the schools' networks.
They want a uniform system where every student has the same device, no matter their family circumstances, and teachers and staff have devices that work well with those of their students.
Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.
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