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Amazon Donates Laptops to Students Amid Coronavirus Closure

Amazon is donating 8,200 laptops to families of students in Seattle Public Schools who don’t have access to a device needed for remote learning while schools are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

by Benjamin Romano, The Seattle Times / April 7, 2020
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(TNS) — Amazon is donating 8,200 laptops to families of elementary-school students in Seattle Public Schools who don’t have access to a device needed for remote learning while schools are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company and school district announced Monday morning.

The donation also kick-starts the new fund, the Education Equity Fund, stewarded by the school district’s nonprofit partner, the Alliance for Education. Businesses, community groups and individuals will be able to donate to the fund, which aims to “support students furthest from educational justice in accessing the technology, technical support and additional learning resources required to continue to learn during the COVID-19 crisis,” the announcement said.

Amazon has been working with Seattle Public Schools (SPS) and the Alliance for Education on ways to help since the beginning of the outbreak. “We understood sourcing devices was one of the District’s biggest, urgent needs,” the company said in a statement.

Significant gaps in computer and internet access among students have presented barriers to instruction. It’s a problem the district sought to avoid at the outset of the pandemic. Before the state ruled all schools must provide instruction during the closure, the district quickly said it would not be providing online learning for students for equity reasons. Now the district has been forced to rethink that response, especially given the state’s order Monday extending school closures through the end of the academic year.

The school district will prioritize distribution of Amazon’s laptops to elementary-school students who don’t have access to a device at home, according to the announcement. Amazon’s donation meets the estimated need for elementary-school students, the company said on its blog.

Before this donation, valued at $2 million — suggesting a cost of about $240 per laptop — the 52,000-student district had about 26,830 laptops, according to SPS spokesman Tim Robinson.

Half of those devices were intended for shared use at school by elementary and middle-school kids, and the rest were for high-school kids to take home. It’s unclear how many of those shared devices, more than 17,000, have been deployed to families. An FAQ on the district’s website says 1,000 computers “will be ready for delivery to schools later this week and next,” and that “2,000 more are in the pipeline.”

The donation will allow the district to focus its efforts on making sure every high-school and middle-school student has a laptop, the district said. Roughly 60% of high-school students have district-issued laptops.

The company aims to ship new Chromebook laptops directly to students, providing them after spring break, which is April 13-17.(Chromebooks are typically inexpensive computers geared for web browsing. They run Google’s Chrome operating system.)

No Amazon software or branding will be on the machines, nor will Amazon have any visibility into data stored on them, the company said in a statement. It will be up to parents or guardians to install software and control students’ use of the laptops, which will be theirs to keep permanently, Amazon said.

Robinson said SPS has also purchased 500 hotspots, and is letting families know about free Wi-Fi programs from Comcast and other providers.

“Amazon’s gift comes at a crucial time for our students,” SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau said in the announcement. “We’ve never lost sight of the need to continue our students’ education — even during this unprecedented time — and our community partner, Amazon, now makes it easier to keep moving forward with the critical work of teaching and learning.”

About 33% of Seattle students come from families with low incomes, according to state education data.

School district protocols for online learning vary across the state. In Seattle, teachers are supposed to check with families twice a week and provide learning materials in print at two dozen school sites as well as online.

“Making sure our kids have the ability to keep learning is one of the most important things we can collectively do during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services. “With this donation, we’re focused on Seattle students from underserved and underrepresented communities who otherwise would not have access to these devices — which helps enable SPS to educate and assist all of their students during this pandemic.”

©2020 The Seattle Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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