Leon County School board votes to move forward with laptop program

Published: Jun. 2, 2020 at 8:58 PM EDT
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By: Sophia Hernandez | WCTV Eyewitness News

June 2, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The Leon County School Board has approved a measure to let the chair move forward with an agreement that would allow for every student in the system to receive a laptop.

The plan to re-imagine the county's current form of education would provide more than 32,000 Chromebooks to each of their students. However, there are still many questions and unknowns, including what school will look like come fall and accessibility for all students.

The school board says this is the right time for this move. It would minimize the technological divide within their student body, but there are still hurdles to overcome.

But the board says this is the first step to give every student equal access.

Scott Mazur, Leon County Teachers Association President shares, "The purpose of public education is to make sure that everyone has an opportunity."

The educator states that these laptops will fulfill an essential need for many students that did not have a way to log on to their classes.

However, parents like Elvaro Jimenez share that they have spent months online learning, and have concerns for what this might mean for his nine-year-old daughter come fall.

His daughter currently uses her laptop for school work, "Her trying to do her homework, trying to click on things and things not working, then she gets frustrated and does not want to do it anymore."

Jackelin Reyes's son uses her laptop. While she was on maternity leave, online school was fairly easy, but she shares she wants things to return to how they were before, "I would love to be at home with my son doing school work but again I do need to go back to work and he does need to be around other kids."

LCS Chair, Dee Dee Rasmussen, says that the laptops provide options and adds the county is looking into ramping up their current virtual curriculum, but also creating a virtual academy, that would allow students who want to learn online, the capabilities to do so.

On the other hand, they are looking at block scheduling and keeping the school at 50% capacity for those wanting to return to school sites.

"If you're student goes to Gilchrist, they can still be a Gilchrist Grizzly but have online instruction, or if they go to Leon High School and have online instruction, if that is the parent's desire or if it becomes necessary," she said.

With only nine weeks until the start of school, many questions remain.

The board needs to survey teachers and parents, which they hope to do by early July, and ask questions regarding preference of schooling, curriculum, training, and secure internet.

In the meantime, parents like Jimenez hope that while schools make progress, they stay true to the complete academic experience, "They are kids and they are used to interacting with one another and they are used to having fun and hanging at school, and with all these regulations we have taken that away from them."

Mazur furthers,"Technology is a tool just like a book would be a tool...but as far as a relationship and the interactions that is something that we want to make we do safely in returning to school."

The board voted Tuesday night to move forward with the proposal.

The school board says nothing has been decided for fall, as they work through all possible options. As for the laptops, they will be leased during a four-year agreement with CDW, for $10.5 million. The hope is to have them by August 1 so students have enough time to get comfortable.

During the meeting, Superintendent Rocky Hanna said he is trying to work on a survey to see how parents feel about certain issues, such as how comfortable parents are with sending their kids back to school, staffing needs and potential connectivity issues so students don't fall behind on laptop work.

Hanna also said this is not just a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying, "We should have done this a long time ago."