Richmond Public Schools working on Chromebook conundrum

Backorder of devices won’t arrive until end of September

Richmond Public Schools working on Chromebook conundrum
Richmond Public Schools (RPS) says about 10,000 additional Chromebooks will not be delivered on time due to supply and demand. (Source: Pixabay)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond Public Schools is dealing with a virtual hiccup before students even get back to learning this academic year. A shortage of Chromebooks is forcing school leaders to get creative to make sure students can learn from home.

The school division’s order of 10,000 of the devices won’t be here until the end of September at best, but classes get underway starting Sept. 8.

“Of course this is frustrating,” said Richmond School Board member Scott Barlow. “I know that RPS had done everything in our power to get as many laptops, as many Chromebooks as possible for our students.”

The superintendent sent out a note to parents letting them know about the issue. The division blaming supply and demand issues as a lot of schools around the country are going virtual and competing for the product.

“Supply chains are a little bit tight so we’re going to work around the clock to get those out as soon as we can,” said RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras. “But that is what we will achieve soon.”

The division has about 2,600 Chromebooks on-hand right now but needs more than 5,000 to cover everyone.

“We may have growing pains through this process and we may have to revise plans, and we may have to come up with contingencies because this is really an unprecedented time,” said Barlow.

English learners and those who have an “Individualized Education Program” will get Chromebook priority. Others will get Android tablets until the technology order arrives.

“We are continuing our technology distribution,” said Kamras. “So our goal is to get a Chromebook into the hands of every RPS student regardless of economics so that all families can have the same user experience, have the same security software installed on their devices.”

The division is quick to also point out, over the spring and summer, 16,000 Chromebooks made it into the hands of students.

The backorder was placed in June following a survey of family needs.

The division is going to start its Pre-K program completely off technology. The Pre-K team is developing a set of resources and activities for those young learners with details still to come.

Here’s a copy of the email blast sent to RPS families:

Dear #RPSStrong Family,

I’d like to begin by welcoming back all of our teachers, who started their pre-service training this morning! RPS Teachers: We’re so grateful for all that you have done to support our students and families since March 13, and for all that you’re going to do to help them thrive this fall. I can’t wait to visit your virtual classrooms and see the amazing ways you’re going to demonstrate what it means to #TeachWithLove. If anyone would like to catch my address to our educators from this morning, just click here!

My main topic tonight is an update on our computer distribution. First, some context. Over the spring and summer, we distributed 16,000 Chromebooks to any student who needed one. Anticipating that we would need more for the fall, we ordered an additional 10,000 devices back in June. We had expected them to arrive by now, but unfortunately they haven’t. Why? Well, the global supply chain is extremely tight right now and our country’s current trade tensions with China have created all sorts of delays. To learn more about this, I encourage you to read this article from The Washington Post and this one from The Wall Street Journal.

So what does this mean for RPS? In short, despite the prescient decision by our technology team to submit an order months ago, not everyone who needs a Chromebook will receive one before school starts. I deeply apologize for this.

I should note that we have about 2,600 Chromebooks currently on hand. But our current need appears to be twice that. So here’s what we’re going to do as a stopgap measure until our order of 10,000 devices arrives.

  • We’re going to prioritize the 2,600 Chromebooks currently on hand for English Learners and students with IEPs. These devices will be distributed by schools starting next week. I’ll include the full distribution schedule in tomorrow’s RPS Direct.
  • We’re going to give Android Tablets to any other K-12 students who still need a device. These tablets do not have as much functionality as the Chromebooks, but they’ll allow students to get online, access Google Classroom, and receive emails from their teachers. We’re in the process of creating a family-friendly guide for students who receive the tablets. These devices, like the Chromebooks, will be distributed by schools starting next week.
  • We’re going to start our Pre-K program completely off technology. The Pre-K team is developing a set of resources and activities for our youngest learners, which we’ll be able to share very soon.

Once our order of 10,000 Chromebooks arrives (which we now expect by the end of September), we’ll give one to every student who initially received a tablet and to every Pre-K student. We’ll also begin to distribute them to students who have a non-RPS device at home, as it’s ideal for student safety and security to have everyone on an RPS computer.

In part because of the challenges I’ve outlined above, I just shared with our principals that our first week should be as low-stress as possible. The focus should be on building relationships, getting used to the virtual format, and helping students reacclimate to school after nearly six months away. We will not grade assignments and we will not conduct any formal assessments. The goal will be to ratchet down the anxiety for students, families, and staff. We know there will be bumps and we want everyone to have the space and grace to navigate and learn from them with as little angst as possible.

I know that was a lot to absorb so, as always, please don’t hesitate to contact me at jkamras@rvaschools.net if you have any questions.

With great appreciation,

Jason

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