The first day of school for Roswell Independent School District will remain Aug. 19 as scheduled, but per the governor’s latest health order, all students will begin learning remotely rather than through the hybrid schedule.
Due to technology backorders and a lack of internet for about 53% of its students, however, some children might have to do school work with pencil and paper, RISD officials said Friday.
The first day of school will be a day for teachers to connect virtually with parents for the year’s only scheduled parent-teacher conferences. Remote learning for students will begin the next day.
The governor’s order does allow an exception for in-person learning for students with special needs and for small groups of students in kindergarten through third grade.
RISD officials said Friday they will be working on a plan for those students this week. Jennifer Cole, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said priority will be given to special needs students, as the district will not likely have enough staff to accommodate small groups for kindergarten through third grade.
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The district will also be contacting parents this week to evaluate which students will be most in need of school-supplied devices for online learning.
Superintendent Mike Gottlieb said at the July 14 school board meeting the district should have enough Chromebooks for all students by the start of school. But he acknowledged Friday that might not be the case.
RISD ordered Chromebooks in March, April and May, but many are still backordered, Gottlieb said. It may be January before those orders are filled. Federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act are being used for the purchases.
“We’re talking several thousand that we’re still waiting for. It’s just getting them here from the companies is the big issue that we’re facing,” he said.
Just like with personal protection equipment early in the pandemic, technology is now facing an increased demand, he said.
“We’re doing our very best to close the digital divide, but right now there’s a shortage of technology and there’s a shortage of money,” Cole said. “We’re very realistic about the fact that we do have a large percentage of our students and families that just don’t have access, and we’re really wanting to prioritize those families.”
Cole said the district is working with community partners on increasing student access and family support.
“I’m really excited about that collaborative work that is happening and we should have a plan in place for that team by the end of next week,” she said.
But she also acknowledged some students may not be able to learn online, at least initially.
“In some cases, there may have to be some paper and pencil activity for students,” Cole said.
Gottlieb said the district will have internet hotspots at all the parking lots of its buildings that will be accessible with the district devices. Maps will be released showing where to park and how to access the network.
The hotspots are ready at three schools at this point, he said.
The devices can also be used with home or public internet. Because federal funds are being used to purchase the equipment, the devices will block certain sites to meet student safety rules.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or firstname.lastname@example.org.