A nice device

Tablets are part of school now. Here are some ways districts are managing.

Posted 9/14/22

REGION — Once upon a time, school supplies meant pencils, pens, notebooks. A calculator. Lunch, maybe.

Now the tablet is a key part of the educational kit.

Devices are a lot more …

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A nice device

Tablets are part of school now. Here are some ways districts are managing.


REGION — Once upon a time, school supplies meant pencils, pens, notebooks. A calculator. Lunch, maybe.

Now the tablet is a key part of the educational kit.

Devices are a lot more expensive than a notebook, and parents might be forgiven some qualms about handheld computers when those hands are young or careless.

Four schools discuss how they handle the situation.

Tablets then

When lockdown hit, as the pandemic became an ever-present reality, schools had a tricky three-fold mission: to shut down fast, to make sure learning continued, and to ensure the safety and health of their staff and students.

Devices, said Wayne Highlands [PA] assistant superintendent Timothy Morgan, “became incredibly important.”

Tablets were funded through a combination of state and federal grants, community foundation grants and local dollars. Often ARP-ESSER funds, American Rescue Plan emergency relief money, were used to get tech rolling.

Costs of individual devices ranged from $350 to $400 each, the respondents said. For security reasons, students had to use the school-provided devices.

All of the 1,500 students in grades K-12 were provided with Chromebooks for at-home study, Fallsburg superintendent Dr. Ivan Katz said.

Wayne Highlands purchased enough iPads for all students, K-12, said Morgan.

Liberty too supplied them to all students, about 2,500 devices, wrote superintendent Dr. Patrick Sullivan in an email. A website was created to answer questions and provide tech support. Teachers received ongoing training in integrating subjects with  technology.

“The purchases were aidable through BOCES or were free through Emergency Connection funds,” Sullivan wrote. “The benefits greatly outweigh any cost to the district, because computer-aided learning is the present and future of education.”

When they dropped it

Or lost it. Or stepped on it. Or it got fried in a power surge. Tablets go missing or get broken.

Districts used insurance to start with, although not all continued with plans.

Care and safety of the device

Liberty’s approach to device security is a good overview of what districts took into account.

The devices were insured, providing limited coverage for cracked screens, liquid spills or submersions, theft, fire/flood damage, vandalism, power surges from lightning and accidental damage, according to information on the district’s website.

Files had to be school-appropriate.

Parents agreed to monitor student use and to apply controls. They also had to restrict usage at most times to common household areas.

Violations of ethical and legal utilization of all tech resources would result in disciplinary action.

Students were told not to share logins or passwords (except with parents) and to refrain from developing software to harass or track others, to not change another person’s files, and not to introduce viruses.

An agreement had to be signed by the parent/guardian and the student; a meeting about responsibilities had to be attended or a video watched.

In Liberty, according to the school’s policy, tutorials were given and agreements were signed by the parent or guardian and student. The family is liable for a $300 replacement fee for non-returns, damage, loss due to negligence and other issues.

The amount of lost, stolen or broken devices in Fallsburg was negligible, Katz said.

In Monticello, spokesperson Courtney Bonfante wrote that the district stopped insuring devices. “Now that we have a few years of historical data, we have learned that it is more cost-effective to replace when necessary rather than to insure all of the devices.”

Monticello parents and students sign an agreement and students are trained to care for the devices.

If something gets broken due to neglect, Bonfante wrote, the parents could be liable for a replacement fee. “Each incident is handled on a case-by-case basis.”

The district also has an in-house team to repair and/or troubleshoot various issues with the devices.

Wayne Highlands has an in-house insurance policy for loss or damage. It costs families about $25. The district also requires a signed agreement that covers care of the device and family liability if the iPad is damaged or lost. The policy is posted on the district website.

Tablets now

All districts are back to full-time, in-person learning, and many have been since 2020. Devices are still a part of learning.

Classes are totally in person in Fallsburg, said Katz, and the Chromebooks remain with the students to help with assignments.

In Liberty, students have Google accounts and use Google classroom, Sullivan wrote. “While used significantly in core classes, they have been used for virtual field trips, research, composition, presentations and more.”

Devices can give tech skills to students who may not have access at home, writes Nicole Antonucci at EdTech. They mean access to ebooks and supplemental information, and can help students organize their work.

In other words, tablets might have gotten students and districts through the pandemic, but now, said Morgan, “they’re part of the regular fabric of what we do.”

The challenges

“We had a short period to ramp up,” said Morgan at Wayne Highlands. Students had to learn proper use of devices; teachers had to learn to work remotely.

But soon “we were using it effectively,” he said, “striking a balance between using and overusing.”

There was a great deal of difficulty in keeping pace with the expectations of each grade during remote learning, said Katz, the Fallsburg superintendent. To keep students from failing, an after-school tutor program has been implemented. At first this was funded by the Fallsburg school board, and now the program is self-funded.

Since sports and other extracurricular activities are an integral part of student life, Katz said, there is a reasonable accommodation for those programs as well.

Some challenges applied more to the devices themselves.

“When all you needed was paper and a pen and perhaps a workbook, a forgotten or lost item could easily be borrowed or replaced,” wrote Sullivan, the Liberty superintendent. But these tools of school were more complicated. Devices were lost or damaged, passwords were forgotten, or other problems made it tough for students to learn.  “We believe the inconveniences don’t outweigh the benefits of being a 1:1 device [one device per student] school.”

Lack of access to broadband affected—and still affects—some districts. “We surveyed families,” said Morgan. “A small percentage, 10 to 15 percent, did not have reliable service.” So Wayne Highlands, like other districts, created wireless access points outside the school. Other points were established in the community.

In Sullivan County, BOCES ran a wireless-access bus in collaboration with local officials. In Liberty, surveys were sent out to determine broadband needs, and hotspots were funded and installed, superintendent Dr. Patrick Sullivan wrote in an email. “All of our students were able to access the internet to continue their education.”

“One thing we’re very proud of is that we did maintain as much normalcy as possible,” said Morgan. The district was quickly back to some level of in-person learning. Schools that had to remain closed for longer have suffered more learning loss, but, he said, there were fewer signs in Wayne Highlands. That balanced with a need to ensure that students wouldn’t catch COVID-19 and spread it at home to vulnerable relatives.

tablets, education, pandemic


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