San Dieguito board approves purchase of Chromebooks for every student

SDUHSD plans to provide Chromebooks for all students.

The San Dieguito Union High School District will now be a 1:1 district with educational technology for every student as the board approved the $5.2 million purchase of 13,300 Chromebooks at its Aug. 18 meeting. The vote was 3-2 with Vice President Mo Muir and Clerk Melisse Mossy opposed.

The touchscreen devices come with a built-in stylus and will be funded from the $6.3 million the district has received in state and federal learning loss mitigation funds. The majority of the funds, $5.1 million, needs to used by December 2020 while other funds have deadlines of September 2021 and September 2022.

Due to high demand, the Chromebooks are expected to arrive by early to mid-October.

The board received several public comments questioning the need for the Chromebook purchase with parents noting that only 1,000 were requested in the spring for distance learning. Parents also asked whether the money could be used for other things the district needs for the safe reopening of schools such as PPE, tutoring support, or campus enhancements like water bottle filling stations to replace water fountains, bathroom upgrades and tents for outdoor learning.

“Spend COVID funds to get kids back to school, not home and disconnected,” wrote Ruth Baurle in her submitted public comment.

“Purchasing this many laptop computers, in a district where more than 95% of families already have computers and tablets is taking a sledgehammer approach to an issue that deserves a more nuanced approach,” said Michael Allman, a candidate for the school board.

Bryan Marcus, associate superintendent of educational services, said the purpose of the Chromebooks is to provide a district-wide standard device that promotes equity and access for all students. As all of the district’s neighboring feeder elementary districts are 1:1, Marcus said many parents tell him their students are “powering down” when they come to their district without the same resources available to them.

According to Marcus, the Chromebooks are considered “two in one laptops” as they function as a laptop in the traditional sense but can also fold around to use as a tablet. The stylus can assist in touchscreen capabilities for uses such as notes, writing, drawing, annotating, PDFs and writing math equations.

With the new Chromebooks, all students will have access to the same device and platform and equal access to instructional materials no matter where their learning takes place, whether it’s at home, in the classroom or the school learning commons. The devices provide a common learning management program for consistent communication between students and teachers and they reduce the impact of limited internet access as Google Drive allows students to work on files offline.

While the Chromebooks will support distance learning, Marcus said they are at a place where education is changing and teachers are utilizing technology more than ever before.

“We understand that this is the direction we’re going with technology, that our classrooms are going to change now moving forward,” Marcus said,

The district currently has 9,000 Chromebooks and 4,376 of them are at the end of their useful lives and need to be replaced. Only 3,743 of them are touchscreen devices.

Over 1,000 devices went out during the spring for distance learning and as 200 were returned at the end of the school year, 800 remain with current students. Marcus said they are seeing a huge uptick in the amount of Chromebooks that are being requested by families. So far about 1,900 Chromebooks have been requested including 300 at Carmel Valley Middle School, 330 at Canyon Crest Academy, 400 at San Dieguito Academy and 250 at Oak Crest Middle School.

During the virtual meeting, the board had a long discussion about the devices as Mossy and Muir had many questions about the need and expense.

“Once students get to middle school and high school, most have a smart phone or some other device. In some cases, many have a phone, a laptop and maybe another device as well so rather than duplicating technology for families that don’t need it, I’m wondering is there a way to replenish what they need and reserve dollars in other areas,” Mossy said.

Mossy also did not like that she hadn’t been able to demo the product or hear input from students and teachers. She questioned the timing of the expense and whether it could impact the district if they are in a deficit in coming years.

“It’s not that I don’t want to provide the optimum best for our kids because I do but I also want to be responsible,” Mossy said.

Board member Kristin Gibson supported the purchase as she said the district seemed to always be on a path of 1:1 if funds were available. Trustee Joyce Dalessandro agreed.

“Our staff has put a lot of time and energy and research into their suggestion. It is money that we have to spend fairly rapidly. I don’t know why this is so controversial,” Dalessandro said. “I think that providing students with a device that can be regulated to some extent, that they have easy access to whatever they need…this fits a lot of the bill. It really makes sense. I’m not sure why there’s so much pushback right now on providing these.”

Muir said she was concerned about the type of equipment that the district selected—she said she would have liked to have seen a survey of students about their preferred device. She also had concerns and about the expense moving forward and whether the funds could be better used to improve campuses such as installing touchless door hardware like kickplates or hiring tutors to help with learning loss as she has seen done in another district.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re not hiring expert tutors to catch kids up because that would really be a gift to all the kids,” Muir said after the vote.

Tina Douglas, associate superintendent of business services, went over a detailed list of the $500,000 in COVID-related expenditures the district has spent so far. Purchases include face masks, face shields, hand sanitizers, gloves, thermometers, disinfectant supplies, sneeze guards, distance stickers and tools to support teachers’ distance learning instruction from home such as ThinkPad laptops and lapel microphones.

The district also plans to rent handwashing stations—two for each middle school and three for for every high school. Douglas said they anticipate getting reimbursed from FEMA for these expenditures.

Reopening planning continues

San Diego County came off the state’s monitoring list on Aug. 18 and schools will be cleared to open if the county stays off the list for an additional 14 days. While San Dieguito will start the year in distance learning for the first quarter, as they are allowed to bring students back the district will prioritize special education students, English language learners, high-risk students and students with inadequate learning environments first and then all other students.

At the Aug. 18 meeting, Superintendent Robert Haley provided an update on their reopening planning and framework.

“Our decisions will be guided by considering health and safety needs of our students, families and community as our highest priority,” Haley said. “Health and safety beyond COVID-19 is critical, we’ve heard more and more about really a mental health crisis facing our entire country and I think that’s something we need at the forefront of our planning to really support students and their families. This has been a very tough period of time.”

A new back-to-school website will go live in the coming days in an effort to provide more information to families.