CPS buying 100k laptops in anticipation of increased remote learning in January – Chicago Sun-Times

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Officials said the move will give schools more access to devices and replace damaged laptops as a spike in cases — and a subsequent move to online classes for some classrooms — is anticipated in the new year.
As the pandemic surges once again in large part due to the new omicron variant of COVID-19, Chicago Public Schools officials are purchasing 100,000 new laptops in preparation for more students returning to remote learning in the new year.
The district, the nation’s third-largest, has received Board of Education approval to spend more on computer devices this time around than it did when all students were learning virtually last school year.
Officials said the move will give schools more access to devices with the aim of moving closer to a one-device-per-student system, and replace damaged laptops as a spike in cases — and a subsequent move to online classes for some classrooms — is anticipated in January. The district is still saying a system-wide return to remote learning is unlikely, however.
The digital divide, as it was dubbed, was one of the most glaring educational problems around the country, and certainly in Chicago, as the pandemic emerged last year. Over 100,000 CPS students, about one-third of those in the district, didn’t have access to a computer or quality internet when schools shut down in March 2020, officials said months later.
CPS signed a three-year, $120 million contract in August 2020 for the purchase of Windows laptops and Chromebooks from Vernon Hills-based CDW and Georgia-headquartered Virtucom. The deal was for $35 million last school year, $50 million this year and another $35 million next school year.
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Through this past July, CPS bought 100,110 laptops and tablets for a combined $31,846,853 to add to the district’s existing supply and help bridge that gap, according to district records.
Officials long said the devices purchased last year adequately filled the district’s needs. But last week district leaders asked the school board to spend more on computers.
CPS amended its contract to $296 million over the three years, more than doubling the agreement’s previous value. Last year’s total doubled to $70 million, this year’s tripled to $150 million and next year’s increased to $76 million.
And this week, CPS officials said they bought another 100,000 devices through that contract for about $39 million. Asked why the district needed more laptops after the 100,000 brought in last year, CPS spokeswoman Sylvia Barragan said the new batch would build out schools’ technology capabilities with 100,000 additional devices and charging carts “in preparation for more classrooms to switch to remote learning if needed amid a possible COVID-19 surge in January.” Barragan didn’t say how much this particular order would cost.
Students have complained since last year that some of CPS’ existing devices were slow almost to the point of being unusable. Even after the laptop purchases in 2020, not all students had a school-provided device — many families continued using their own computers at home. Lost or unreturned devices have also contributed to the need for more laptops, though officials didn’t say how many fell in that category.
Barragan also reiterated CPS CEO Pedro Martinez’s stance Tuesday that the district wouldn’t shut down except in the case of a citywide lockdown. Those decisions would be made on the classroom and school levels instead, as they have been all year. But the holiday surge of virus cases and the expected post-new year spike led officials to believe more computers would be necessary.
Principals were told of the plan to purchase new laptops in a meeting at the start of the month. The district told school leaders to prepare for a “doomsday” scenario in which thousands of children would have to quarantine in January, reverting hundreds of classrooms to virtual learning, a person in the meeting said.
More than 1,300 students and 790 adults reported positive tests last week, nearly tripling the previous week’s totals, which had been the school year’s highest to date. The number of students in quarantine hovered just under 10,000. Case reporting has plummeted during winter break as students and staff head home.
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