IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Chicago School Officials Work to Close Large Digital Divide

Chicago Public Schools will distribute computers to the highest-need students, with priority given to eighth graders, juniors and seniors, who are all at critical moments in their educational careers.

school (9)9
(TNS) — Chicago Public Schools will distribute computers to the highest-need students, with priority given to eighth graders, juniors and seniors, who are all at critical moments in their educational careers.

Priority is also recommended for students in temporary living situations, students with special needs, English learners and those in Advanced Placement or dual credit courses that require e-learning, according to guidance given to principals late Thursday. Financial need is also a factor, but with three-quarters of CPS students coming from low-income households, principals are facing tough decisions.

“The unfortunate reality is that our resources remain limited and there remains an unacceptable digital divide in our city and nation,” Chief Schools Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova and Chief Information Officer Phillip DiBartolo said in a letter to principals. “Not all students in our district will get new devices, but our top priority is getting a device to every student who needs one.”

The district estimates 115,000 students need devices, and CPS doesn’t yet have enough. Some devices the district recently ordered aren’t expected to arrive until later this month. In the meantime, the district is counting on schools to distribute school-owned laptops, Chromebooks and iPads.

“We are working to distribute more than 100,000 devices and will continue to look for additional resources to narrow the remaining gap,” states the guidance to principals.

For Tracey Robinson, whose children don’t have laptops or tablets, it’s been a long time coming.

“I feel like it shouldn’t have to be an epidemic for our kids to get the tools that they should have already had,” she said.

The family is temporarily living with Robinson’s mother in Bronzeville, and one of her children has a special education 504 plan, she said. That makes the family a priority candidate for devices.

“I just know that kids, they go to school up north, they already had tablets and laptops they were taking home and using, and the kids on the South Side always get whatever’s left or nothing at all,” Robinson said.

CPS was already in the process of a “technology modernization plan” with the goal of each student eventually having a device at school. But currently, 145 CPS schools have one device per student and the average school has 10 devices for every 14 students, according to the district. “To ensure remote learning can begin promptly, schools are encouraged to launch their own device loan programs while waiting to receive equipment from the district,” CPS guidance states.

Principals, assistant principals and counselors should by now have access to rosters with “priority factors” noted for each student, according to CPS. But principals will make final decisions about distribution at their schools.

Remote learning days officially start April 13. That week, printed materials and storage bags will be shipped to schools “to enable the assembly of device packets,” according to the guidance. If a school has devices and decides to distribute them before that, the school’s staff will be responsible for printing materials in each language needed.

Each school needs to figure out its own pickup plan and coordinate with families, with parents or guardians required to accompany students younger than 18 and sign agreements. Parents must show proof of identity, such as a government ID or utility bill, so the district can make sure they’re not giving devices to “unauthorized people.”

The suggested distribution timeline allows two to three days for preparation to remove devices from classrooms to a staging area, and another two to three days for distribution, in which five to 10 devices at a time are moved from the staging area to the pickup area, where parents can check them out. An example provided to principals shows distribution setups for both drive-thru and walk-up plans, with suggestions for spacing out lines to promote social distancing. The Chicago Department of Public Health is not recommending gloves or masks for people who are well, but families will be encouraged to use hand sanitizer before signing in, according to CPS.

Though schools must record device assignments, they won’t be responsible for any damaged or lost during the remote learning period. And while parents and students are asked to prevent damage to devices they check out, parents won’t be charged for any damage, CPS said.

The district is recommending schools have security officers around for distribution, stating the sites may be targets of theft. With sufficient notice, the district said it can also arrange for a Chicago police presence if a school asks for it.

©2020 the Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.