Over 1,500 Schenectady students were still without computer devices Tuesday as district officials worked to sort through requests and distribute recently-received computers to students.
Within the last few days, the district not only received an order of 1,800 Android tablets, but also stockpiled around 600 Chromebook laptops that have arrived recently; district officials have also received 1,580 requests for devices from students across the district, Schenectady school district spokesperson Karen Corona said Tuesday.
Corona said district staff were working to set up each computer for student use before going through individual schools to arrange the best way to distribute the computers to students in need, noting families awaiting devices should have them later this week or next week.
“The technology department is preparing them for deployment,” Corona said.
The district surveyed families over the summer about computer needs – and many students still had devices from the spring – but hundreds more requests started to come in once classes started last week, she said. The district has also faced slow delivery of computers it already ordered; officials are still waiting to receive the bulk of a March order of over 5,000 laptops.
“When it came time to start school many more families said they needed devices than did in the survey,” Corona said.
The large number of students without devices a week after the start of school, though, serves as another reminder of the enormous challenges facing students and educators this school year, as well as the disparities that specifically put Schenectady students at a disadvantage. All students in the district – nearly 10,000 of them – need devices for the school year. Every student in the district is slated to receive at least some virtual instruction each day, with secondary students learning remotely only.
Computers should continue to come into the school district, Corona said. District officials expect to receive more laptops by the end of the month and a larger set of laptops sometime in October. As more computers come in, the district will replace broken computers or replace some tablets with laptops, depending on students’ needs.
Statewide, over 300,000 students reported not having a computer device and over 200,000 students reported not having internet access, according to a survey conducted by state Education Department officials. About half of the state’s districts reported data on student device distribution.
On Monday, Will Rivas, a Schenectady community activist, posted a message on social media that hundreds of Schenectady students had still not received the tools “necessary to even take part in classes.” One parent who responded to the message said her ninth grade son was trying to do schoolwork from his phone. Other parents in the past week have also indicated they were told they needed to wait to receive a computing device. Rivas said two separate parents reached out to him Monday asking if he could help them acquire a computer.
While Rivas said he did not blame district leaders for the difficulty of getting computers to students, he said there should have been more clear communication and a plan established for how to manage students who would not have computers at the start of the school year. He said he worries that the time lost will have long-term consequences for students and that it may be more difficult to engage students back in their academics if they slip by without a computer for the first couple of weeks of the year.
“I fear how the long-term effects are going to impact our youth not just for the rest of the school year but for the rest of their lives,” Rivas said in an interview Tuesday.
Rivas said he worried that student’ inability to participate in the first days of online school will be held against them in their grades or could harm them if state testing is required. He said parents are confused when on the one hand they get communications about their child’s online learning schedule while on the other hand are told to wait longer for a computer.
“There could have been a much more in-depth conversation and laying out a plan (about computer distribution delays),” Rivas said. “To do that even if parents are upset they feel a little bit of compassion – at least they are communicating that with you.”