Prince William County schools have ordered 15,500 laptops as teachers and administrators work to get virtual instruction online by May, hopefully with a device available for every student in need.
The coronavirus closed schools for the remainder of the academic year, leaving school divisions across the state scrambling to build online programs.
Speaking during an online public meeting of the school board Wednesday, held remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, Superintendent Steve Walts said he expects the laptops will be in the hands of students by May, when limited instruction is set to begin for the remainder of the school year.
The $6.4 million cost includes installing software on the devices, setting them up on PWCS accounts, inventory and delivery, division spokesperson Diana Gulotta told InsideNoVa.
“Approximately $2.5 million came from an already planned laptop purchase, and the additional came from other division funds,” she said.
Last week, the school division pitched a $10 million plan to purchase laptops for all 27,000 high school students. Its seeking half of that money in emergency funding from the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.
If the county provides the money, the division will buy more laptops, Gulotta said.
The division will be calling families to determine whether they need a digital device. Students in need will be served as best as possible with the division’s existing equipment, Walts said during his presentation.
He also announced staff’s plan to fast-track a virtual instructional plan even though no work will be graded after March 13, and assignments will be focused on reinforcing previous lessons. He said feedback from teachers is helpful for students to continue to learn remotely.
Students who were on track to pass will pass, but if students need support to improve their grade to pass, the division will work with students, Walts said. Students may improve their grade if they were at risk of failing, he said, adding final grades can be improved all the way to the end of the academic year.
Walts said due to the high risk of further spread of COVID-19, he is not allowing staff or students to re-enter school buildings to pick up personal items. He said items are safely locked. “We’ll adjust these restrictions in the future, if necessary,” he said.
According to the division’s fiscal 2021 budget proposal, the division has 40,000 digital devices that are more than 5 years old. With what was initially expected to be a $16 million investment spread over four years, the goal is to make sure all students in third through 12th grades have a device, which is referred to 1:1, and make sure at least one device for every three kids in kindergarten through second grades in an effort to eventually go to 1:1 in those grades.
School Board Chair Babur Lateef said during the virtual meeting that he wants the board to continue to plan for what could happen in fall 2020.
“It is a concern,” he said. “We listen to leaders at the federal and state levels, there is so much uncertainty.”
Lateef said the division needs to make these kinds of steps to ensure devices are available to all students in case the pandemic impacts schools in the fall.
“We’re going to constantly work to make it better every day,” he said.