School officials are distributing Chromebooks to Paterson high schools to take home over the next week as students are holed up at home amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Superintendent Eileen Shafer announced the move last week. Each high school student was assigned a Chromebook while school was open. Schools closed indefinitely on March 17. Under the new plan, those students will be able to retrieve their devices to complete schoolwork at home.
As many as 7,000 Chromebooks have been cleaned and disinfected for distribution. Parents and students will need to sign a 2-page loan agreement before being allowed to take home the devices.
“Students were using them every day. They were not being sent home,” said school board president Kenneth Simmons.
Schools did not let students take the Chromebooks home due to fear of them getting damaged. Paterson purchased 8,737 Chromebooks for 9-12 grades two years ago. 26-percent of the district’s nearly 28,000 students lack computer devices at home, according to a recently conducted district survey.
Students cannot access their classwork and homework on the devices without internet access. 35-percent of Paterson households lack broadband access, according to federal government data. Shafer last Wednesday said parents without internet access at home will be able to sign up for 60-day trial of Optimum by Altice.
School board member Emanuel Capers worried about what happens after the trial. He also expressed concerns parents may be on the hook to continue the service after the trial period expires.
Altice is offering the longer trial due to the pandemic.
“We know that our connectivity services, especially broadband and voice, are essential for fostering learning for students, powering our local businesses, and keeping our communities connected,” said Dexter Goei, chief executive officer for Altice USA, in announcing the offer last month.
Simmons said the pandemic is highlighting the digital divide that exists in the state and country. He said one silver lining is that the government, particularly schools, are being forced to modernize and adapt.
Paterson school district is a laggard in technology use. Under state control, the district had been slow to introduce technologies that were commonplace in other New Jersey school districts.
“I don’t think we’ll ever go back. We’ll be doing a lot of digital learning,” said Simmons. He said the next goal is to provide devices to middle school students.
“We’re looking to get additional devices for middle school,” said Shafer on Wednesday. Shafer said she needs 4,000 devices that will cost $1.1 million.
The school district has had difficulty purchasing devices due to lack of funding. For years, the district has found itself with large budget deficits that usually led to waves of teacher layoffs.
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