Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Logan says the district will buy laptops or iPads that have Internet connectivity built into them for all 54,000 OPS students.
The multimillion-dollar purchase, which would have to be approved by the school board, would make OPS a one-to-one device district. In doing so, OPS would join other metro area school districts such as the Millard Public Schools and Westside Community Schools.
One-to-one means putting a single, district-owned computer or iPad in the hands of each student rather than having students share classroom computers or visit computer labs.
Logan made the announcement during a Nebraska Department of Education video call last week. Superintendents from all across the state have been holding the calls regularly while all schools in the state are closed because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Jeremy Maskel, an OPS spokesman, said the district still is in the planning stages. A proposal to purchase the devices will go before the school board at or before the May 13 school board meeting.
Maskel said the district will get money from the federal coronavirus relief bill known as the CARES Act. He said the district is expecting that the cost of the devices to exceed what the CARES Act will cover and that the district will supplement the federal money.
The goal, he said, is to support distance learning.
The devices also could be used in the classroom if distance learning is not needed.
Some OPS students have struggled to participate in distance learning because of Wi-Fi connectivity problems. Other students don’t have the necessary devices to do the work and don’t have access to Wi-Fi.
Logan said the decision to buy the devices was made after looking at how much money the district will get for the next academic year.
Devices also would be purchased for paraprofessionals so they can continue to work one on one with students, Logan said.
“We decided that if we’re going to give out devices, we must give out Internet,” Logan said during the video chat. “We have to put that into our costs. We also have to think about staff.”
Earlier this month, the school board approved the purchase of 2,000 iPads with cellular data capabilities for $1.3 million for use in summer school.
Some OPS schools, but not all, had one-to-one computer arrangements before schools were closed. According to Maskel, some form of one-to-one computer use was in place at six middle schools as well as Burke, North and Northwest High Schools — at Northwest, 12th graders had it.
One-to-one practices varied at the schools, he said. At some schools, he said, students checked out the same computer during homeroom for the entire school day, then checked it back in at the end of the day. At others, students took devices home.
But those devices did not necessarily have the capability to be used without Wi-Fi, Maskel said.
Logan said that when the pandemic started, the district decided to give middle and high school students the technology OPS already had, knowing that some students would have access to the Internet and others would not.
District officials, she said, knew some students would be able to use phones as connectivity hot spots or get discounted Wi-Fi from Cox Communications.
For elementary students, the district passed out paper packets.
“We knew it was going to be piecemeal and that we were not going to be able to solve it between when the pandemic started and the end of the academic year because we would have to train everybody on new devices,” she said.
Logan said the district would have had to hand out 54,000 new devices, which could have put staff at risk. She also didn’t want to buy old machines that vendors couldn’t otherwise sell.