As Savannah-Chatham County public school students return to school via online learning Wednesday, not all of them will have a computer or tablet to access the virtual education platform.
Supply chain issues have delayed the delivery of approximately 14,000 devices ordered by the district in June, school officials acknowledged Monday.
“We are not going to have enough devices for the start of school,” said Stacy Jennings, the district’s director of communications. “Everyone who needs a device will get a device, and they will get that device as soon as it becomes available.”
The School Board authorized the purchase of 14,000 Chromebooks and 7,000 iPads this summer. The district had received only 8,000 Chromebooks and none of the iPads, as of Monday. The iPads are primarily for pre-kindergarten through second grade students.
Laptops and tablets have been in high demand across the country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as professional offices and schools moved online to minimize person-to-person contact that spreads the disease.
The extent of the school system’s device shortfall is not known, as parents continue to request equipment through a reservations portal on individual school websites. Distribution of approximately 11,000 Chromebooks, including 8,000 that have been delivered in recent days, began on Friday.
An automated message sent to parents Sunday night foretold of the equipment shortage.
“Shipments of student learning devices continue to arrive. Schools are contacting parents for curbside pickup as devices are available. If your child does not receive a device by Aug. 19 or does not have access to a personal device, please contact your child’s teacher for an alternative learning method until the student learning device can be provided,” the message said.
Students who don’t receive a device prior to Wednesday or otherwise have access to a computer will be provided with paper copies of lesson plans until more equipment becomes available. For those students who do have access to devices but not during scheduled elearning class times, the district is also offering electronic copies of the lesson plans that can be downloaded on flash drives and done at the student’s convenience.
Schools that have enough devices are distributing them. Teachers and staff were at Southwest Elementary on Saturday morning passing out Chromebooks and packets in a drive-thru format to parents who had made appointments. Southwest Elementary has 701 students, according to Tara Fitzgerald, Southwest Elementary’s principal.
“We’re handing out computers to third-, fourth- and fifth-grade kids” on Saturday, said Fitzgerald. “Monday and Tuesday we’ll distribute Chromebooks to pre-K, kindergarten, first- and second-grade students.”
She added that when the new iPads are delivered, parents of pre-K and kindergarten students can come back to the school to exchange the Chromebooks for iPads, if they want.
More devices are on the way
School Board President Joe Buck expressed confidence every student will have a device soon.
“We were still expecting more coming in last week,” he said. “Obviously, everybody in the country is trying to buy (devices). I do know that we will probably not have every one of them signed in and checked in and loaded for distribution on the first day of school. But, they are coming.”
He explained that once the school district has the devices, they have to be uploaded with the learning management system and numbered before being distributed. Officials are hopeful the devices will arrive by the end of August.
To “get them here and get them out, takes some time; but everybody’s working hard to make that happen as quickly as it can,” Buck said.
Parents are understandably concerned and even scared.
Wanda Plummer has a sophomore at Johnson High School and a fifth-grader at Isle of Hope. They received their Chromebooks last week but remain uneasy about virtual learning.
“They’d rather be in actual school,” Plummer said. “They are happy they don’t have to get into uniforms. But as far as doing it online. They are still able to talk with their friends and teachers.”
Hollie Morris has a first-grader and a sixth-grader at Hesse K-8 school. She said she “bought the last computer I could find anywhere” for her sixth-grader and her first-grader “will just have to use his iPad.” She added that she’s been working from home since last spring, even though her job is not really a work-from-home-type job.
“Thank goodness I’ve been at my job for 18 years so they are allowing me to stay home and do as much as I can from home,” Morris said.
She added that if the virtual learning continues for an extended time, she will have to find a daycare.
“It’s very scary because you worry about job security. You worry about the kids. You worry about, ‘Am I going to be able to get my work done so I can make money to help pay the bills while helping two very different age-group kids?’ It’s a very daunting, kind of scary thing,” Morris explained.
Yet Morris is keeping a positive attitude, borrowing the advice of School Superintendent Ann Levett.
“I’ve ‘unpacked my patience,’ as Dr. Levett would say, all over my house as I’ve cleaned today.”