Buddy, can you spare a Chrome book?

April 6, 2020

One of the equity issues public schools are facing during the Covid-19 pandemic is that not every home has technology to support remote learning. This gap has a lot of layers to it.  Households that do have technology report a struggle in having enough technology so that all the kids can access remote learning while parents access work. Then there are homes that do not have internet connectivity. Though Comcast and AT&T offer plans for low income households, San Jose Unified School District is complaining that the service does not support video streaming for remote lessons.  Now we see that handing a student a Chrome Student 3100 is the tip to the iceberg.

In the public sector, some Charter schools and smaller districts give each student a computer at the start of the year. Central Unified in Fresno started giving students laptops in 2013. Last year, during a San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD)  District English Learners Advisory Committee (DELAC) meeting, this subject was brought up by parents. The SJUSD is too large, it seems, to make this move.  I recall one curious parent suggesting just the families that need one to reduce the number of computers needed. The point of failure to that plan SJUSD shared was equity. Districts with a larger number of socioeconomically disadvantaged are more likely to have grants for computer to student programs.  For Central Unified, their community of socioeconomic disadvantaged is 70% compared to 45% in San Jose Unified.

Central Unified

How are other districts who do not already have a laptop for student programs handling it?  Templeton Unified (TUSD) had a rave review from a parent, so I looked it up. The TUSD states they can only offer one computer per household, but they do ask to know how many students are in the home.  The pick up date for TUSD was March 20th. As TUSD is a smaller district, I looked at one of the largest in the bay area, San Francisco Unified (SFUSD) Technology Resources for Families offers to  loan one laptop per student starting March 30 until they have no more to loan.  SFUSD is larger than SJUSD, with 57,000 students in their care.

What is the plan for the San Jose Unified School District? 

Over one-hundred people logged into SJUSD’s first virtual Board meeting on March 26, and some came ready with solutions. County Supervisor and former SJUSD Trustee Susan Ellenberg opened public comments by offering her support of the district’s efforts to provide learning options to all students while schools are closed. Others offered to help network in the tech industry to acquire gently used computers, and volunteer with their local school sites to clean and distribute. During the Board meeting, a parent suggested disbursing the current inventory to the students, and replenishing stock when the new systems arrive. This proposal seems to be the quickest and most efficient way to allow students to participate in distance learning. 

None of those offers did meet the SJUSD approval.  District administrators are adamant about acquiring new systems and having those shipped directly from suppliers to the students in need.  It is unclear whether the new computers would be loaners, expected to be returned when school resumes, or if students will be told to hold on to them to maintain remote learning skills that will be incorporated into post Covid curriculum.  

What came to light during a round table discussion I hosted with district staff and parents, is there is not a way to be sure the district knows every student who is in need of a computer.

Kristen Brown