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By Collin Breaux

Capistrano Unified School District students have individually received and worked on Chromebook laptops during the COVID-19 pandemic—a project CUSD staff reviewed during a Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, July 21.

Chromebooks are becoming increasingly popular tools for students in school districts throughout the country. CUSD intended to give Chromebooks to students for school use before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the onset of distance learning during the health crisis accelerated those plans.

“The CARES Act really gave us a fantastic opportunity to do just that,” said CUSD Chief Technology Officer Sean Rozell, in reference to funding sources.

In July 2020, 35,000 Chromebooks were ordered and finally arrived in January 2021 due to excessive demand and global supply-chain challenges. Students in transitional kindergarten to kindergarten use touchscreen devices that predominately stay in the classroom, and all other grade levels receive personal computers they can take home.

“There’s actually a lot of policy decisions you need to cover. Some of them are basic,” Rozell said. “Do they take them home over the summer? And some of them are kind of silly, in a way—do they get to personalize them and put stickers on them?”

High school and middle school students can expect to get Chromebooks at the start of the school year during registration. High schools will retrieve Chromebooks from graduating seniors.

Optional coverage for the devices is available for parents through a third-party underwriter, at a cost of $20 per year.

“No one is required to do it,” Rozell said. “For our socially economic disadvantaged students—usually identified through the free and reduced lunch program—the district covered that $20. They have that insurance provided for them.”

Ongoing challenges include five-year lifespans for the devices, home internet service, and technical support.

“At the beginning of distance learning during COVID, we provided hotspots because that was the quickest, easiest way to get internet out. It’s also not terribly cost-effective. There are other ways,” Rozell said. “There’s the federal Emergency Broadband Benefit program. That’s a subsidized broadband access program that is available so you can get a subsidy from the government. We’re providing all of our families information on how they can enroll for that.”

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