The Horry County Board of Education’s Technology committee discussed Tuesday how they can make sure all students have their own devices in the event that eLearning has to happen again, whether it be due to COVID-19 or inclement weather.
“In the middle of this pandemic we need to be looking forward into the future with some things,” said District 5 member and Technology Committee chair Janice Morreale.
Schools closed March 16 due to S.C. Governor Henry McMaster’s order and it is unknown whether classes will begin this Fall in person or virtually.
Currently, students in grades 5-12 have their own devices, while most students in grades 3 and 4 must share with one other student.
Students in child development do not have devices.
To bring the 3,500 third and fourth-graders their own devices so they no longer have to share would cost $1.3 million, according to Chief Officer for Student Services Velna Allen.
To give kindergarteners and first-graders their own device would be a total of about $5.4 million, Allen said.
“The prospect that we will still be contending with impacts of COVID-19, it’s imperative we prepare ourselves in the event we have to use online learning in the near future … hurricane season – there is a 60 percent chance we’re going to have more activity than usual,” Superintendent Dr. Rick Maxey said.
Chief Financial Officer John Gardner said that the district should be receiving money from the CARES Act to the tune of a little over $14 million, and they will have flexibility on how they use those funds.
“Some of those funds could be used for eLearning and technology,” Gardner said.
Allen said the district also needs to keep in mind that a refresh for middle and high school devices is needed soon to be sure they can run the needed programs.
“I do have concerns for all three levels, the devices that have gone home, as to what kind of condition they are in or if we get some of them back, if they have been lost,” Allen said.
The group discussed possibly moving the older devices down to the child development students, while giving new ones to everyone else, but Allen worried then that those devices would be out of warranty and possibly wouldn’t function properly with the needed programs.
Gardner said that currently that $5.1 million is available to give everyone their own device, but a funding source would need to be found for the $4.5 million for middle school device upgrades and $8.2 million for high school upgrades in 2021-2022.
Maxey worried that if they wait to purchase the new devices, with the prospect of eLearning in the future in some form, many other schools may be considering the same thing.
“While Apple may have this inventory on hand at the present time, I’m sure there is a demand from across the country that may deplete the inventory,” Maxey said.
The committee’s suggestion is to use currently available funds of $1.4 million to equip grades 3-4, and possibly use $3.9 million from the CARES Act to pay for K-2, but would discuss the issue further at their Monday night board meeting.