The sudden shift to distance education has put school districts on the hook to provide classroom instruction from afar, frequently in the form of a video classroom.
But school districts are also on the hook for filling the gaps for students who may not have computers or internet access while stuck at home due to coronavirus closures — and doing so isn’t cheap.
Vancouver Public Schools this week distributed iPads for students in kindergarten through second grade, replacing paper packets with apps and websites. While distance learning for all students started a week ago, the school district had to purchase 4,850 additional iPads and covers at a cost of about $1.65 million, plus taxes.
Battle Ground Public Schools similarly had to purchase devices for students, spending about $39,000 on 150 Wi-Fi hot spots to help students who don’t have internet access at home connect that are slated to ship soon. The district plans to order another 150.
In the meantime, “we’re providing paper packets for any parent who needs it,” said Rita Sanders, district spokeswoman for Battle Ground.
It’s unclear if districts that purchase equipment to teach students during closures will be eligible for reimbursements or financial support. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act allocated $13.5 billion for school districts across the country, but Washington has not received its share, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The department is “awaiting guidance” on how those funds can be used.
Sanders noted that the school district is seeing cost savings elsewhere. Buses aren’t hitting the road as often. Utility expenses have decreased because buildings are closed.
Vancouver Public Schools is set to roll out new iPads for students to replace outdated devices in other grades, so the iPads will continue to be used once the crisis has passed, district spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo said.
For those primary school teachers who aren’t regularly using iPads, adjusting to the new normal has required extra training and resources.
Zach Desjarlais, the district’s director of instructional technology, said information technology staff have been running two to four virtual training sessions a day since the start of spring break. Typically that work would be done over months, but absent the luxury of time, staff are rushing to equip teachers with the skills they need.
“The IT department has worked so hard and so much to get this done,” Desjarlais said.
Battle Ground’s online training sessions have also been popular. Sanders said 565 staff members participated in training last week, more than half of the district’s staff.
“All our teachers are doing a really good job,” she said. “They’re certainly learning online skills in how to provide online learning.”