As public schools move fully online, DOE says some students don’t have needed equipment

Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 4:23 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 24, 2020 at 4:24 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Full distance learning will begin for most public schools Monday. But officials admit some students won’t have the equipment they need to connect to online classrooms.

Hawaii’s Department of Education says it’s facing a shortage of laptops and other devices. The equipment is vital — with teachers and students connecting through distance learning for at least the next three weeks.

“This is completely new, so there’s going to be a lot of stuff that we need to figure out as we go,” said Brook Conner, DOE assistant superintendent for information technology.

“Are there going to be students that don’t have a device or don’t have network access? ... Yes, absolutely.”

According to an Associated Press report, some of the nation’s biggest school districts — including Los Angeles and Houston — are waiting for their laptop orders to be filled.

Hawaii’s DOE recently placed a third order for about 13,000 additional devices, but officials say most of those could arrive as late as October.

And Chromebooks from the second purchase still haven’t been delivered.

The DOE says it put in the order based on the estimated need for the most vulnerable students and the funding available at the time.

“We haven’t been able to get exact numbers on what the need is until now,” Conner said.

“Now that we’ve actually in this past week have had students showing up and filling out a form that says do you need a device or not? Do you need network access at home or not?”

The DOE says it spent the roughly $43 million it received in emergency relief funding under the CARES Act on the equipment — as well as PPE, training for teachers and other items.

HE’E Coalition, which is made up of parent groups and community organizations, sent a letter to the superintendent in April asking whether students have access to devices and the internet.

“We’re still not sure how short we are on devices and internet access,” said Cheri Nakamura, of the coalition. “If we had a better idea, perhaps we could have mobilized together to at least guarantee mobile WiFis and devices for all students for this year.”

Also starting Monday, supervised in-person learning labs will be available for students who don’t have WiFi access for distance learning. But when asked how many campuses would have them — and how many children were expected to attend — the DOE said the labs are being coordinated at the school level.

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