Schools face laptop shortage as many go virtual

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A laptop is an essential school supply for many districts going virtual this fall but there won’t be enough to go around for students in Prince George County Schools who have opted for remote learning.

Prince George County schools confirmed that the district is still waiting on 2,500 Chromebooks. The order was placed back in June and at first, the school district was told the laptops would arrive in September but now the vendor says those computers won’t arrive until December.

Prince George is not alone. Nationwide schools are being warned of back orders and long delays.

“There are districts who placed orders in the spring that would have been planned for fall delivery that are hearing 30, 60-day delays and then there are some districts who have ordered during the summer, who won’t see devices until the end of the year,” said Michael Flood, senior vice president strategy for Kajeet.

Kajeet is a company that provides broadband to more than 2,000 school districts in the U.S. and Canada. Flood said this shortage of PCs has a lot of schools scrambling.

“We have a lot of school districts that are turning to community partners to find devices that devices that meet the requirements of what students need and they’re asking for donations,” he said.

Chromebooks seem to be short supply the most. “School districts buy certain Chromebooks that meet certain specs, screen sizes, warranty, etc., so for many this limits their choices. This has essentially led to a huge surge in demand,” explained Flood. Chromebooks are also often a more affordable option for school districts.

The shortage of laptops has also been compounded by the slowdown of factories in China making the computers at the start of the pandemic. Virginia Senator Mark Warner worries laptop shortages will compound inequities in lower-income communities. He sent letters to all the big tech companies including Google, Dell, HP, Microsoft and Apple urging them to help close this new education gap.

“They’re doing great but I think it wouldn’t be too much, Apple just became a $2 trillion company, for them to make frankly a better contribution of equipment,” Warner says.

To help with the shortage in Prince George, elementary students who indicated they needed a computer will be limited to one device per family. Prince George County Public Schools shared the following statement with our sister-station WRIC:

For our students in Grades 6 through 12 who have opted for virtual instruction to begin the school year, their families will be contacted by their respective schools if they indicated on their First Semester Instructional Choice Survey that their family was in need of a device. Each school will communicate with those families regarding a date and time for unit pickup.

For our elementary students who have selected virtual instruction to start the year and indicated their families needed a device in their First Semester Instructional Choice Survey, their school will contact them regarding a date and time to pick up a device. At this time, only one device per family can be distributed for those who initially requested the use of a device.

For those who did not indicate on the survey that a device was needed, those families will be placed on a waiting list. As soon as the devices arrive, the school division will distribute them, with priority being given to remote learners who have indicated they need a device.

Instruction at the elementary level for those on virtual/remote instruction will be delivered virtually for those with devices and in remote/worksheet packets for others until the devices arrive.”

PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

8News did some checking with other districts in Central Virginia. Henrico Public Schools said every student at every school will have an HCPS-issued device (either a touchscreen tablet at grades Pre K-1, a Chromebook at grades 2-5, or a laptop at grades 6-12). Chesterfield County Public Schools said Chromebooks have been assigned to 98 percent of their students in all grades.

Chesterfield Schools also said they have an outstanding order to provide service spares and increased enrollment. Richmond Public Schools expects to have an update for families soon.

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