Atlanta-area schools scramble for laptops despite back in classrooms



“You cannot anticipate all the ramifications of what has happened in the past 12 months,” he said.

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Students at Hull Middle School use computers during summer school Monday morning June 21, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

The challenge is that most students will be back in school for face-to-face instruction, which would normally relax the need for devices. But districts found that they liked the use of computers in education and wanted to continue using them as a learning tool.

“We’ve gotten a lot better at using technology to improve student learning experiences,” said Anthony Smith, assistant superintendent of Gwinnett County High Schools. A recent report by a Gwinnett Schools committee tasked with researching learning models after COVID-19 found that technology is improving the learning experience for students.

However, how quickly districts move to alleviate their laptop shortage depends on what they know of their inventory.

Schools in Fulton County, for example, approved spending of $ 9.9 million earlier this month to provide devices for every student in Grades 3 through 12 as well as to purchase carts filled with devices for kindergarten to grade two, executives said.

Before the pandemic, Fulton students in grades 6 to 12 had personal laptops. When COVID-19 forced the switch to distance learning, the district of 90,000 students distributed additional devices to students in grades two to five in the spring and fall of 2020.

Students at Hull Middle School use computers during summer school on June 21, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Students at Hull Middle School use computers during summer school on June 21, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Gwinnett Schools aims to purchase enough Chromebooks for all 180,000 students in the district to use theirs simultaneously, at a cost of nearly $ 21 million. The district hopes to use federal COVID-19 relief funds for new technology, including last month’s $ 14 million order for 40,000 touchscreen devices for every student in kindergarten to grade two.

Clayton, on the other hand, is evaluating whether he might need to purchase between 10,000 and 15,000 new computers to replace older devices used by students in kindergarten through second-graders.

School leaders in DeKalb County said the district is planning a “refresh project” of its computers this year. In 2017, the district implemented a program to put one device in the hands of two elementary school students and one device for each high school and high school student.

“The devices that were part of our initial deployment have been well used over the past four years and need to be replaced,” a district spokeswoman said.

Cobb executives said the school system distributed devices to more than 45,000 successful students last year and future IT spending will depend on availability and supply chain costs.

“As students continue to learn in both face-to-face and virtual classrooms, we remain committed to providing the tools students need to be successful, including computers,” the school system said in a statement.

Students at Hull Middle School use computers during summer school on June 21, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Legend

Students at Hull Middle School use computers during summer school on June 21, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Crunch is not universal. Residents of Henry County approved a $ 325 million SPLOST earlier this year, in part to provide new laptops to the district’s 43,000 students.

Others have made long-term plans for 2020. Atlanta Public Schools have agreed to spend $ 25 million to lease 40,000 laptops for five years. This will allow the district to put a laptop in the hands of all students this coming school year, a schools spokesperson said.

Districts also said they are also keeping track of how quickly these tools could arrive as part of the rollout plans.

During the summer and fall of 2020, weak supply issues resulted in waits of more than 120 days to fill orders, according to Emily Bell, Fulton’s chief information officer. The industry has recovered somewhat, with turnaround times of around 60 days.

And they’re looking for devices from multiple manufacturers, not just one or two like they’ve done in the past.

“We need to make sure we’re buying the right devices for our students and our money, and we need to be able to make sure that we properly support and maintain devices for their intended lifespan,” said Elmore of Gwinnett.

Editor-in-chief Vanessa McCray contributed to this report.



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