25K laptops headed to Oakland students by late August, after school starts: OUSD

With $12.5 million in Twitter and other tech donations, the Oakland Unified School District announced that 25,000 Chromebooks should make it into the hands of students in late August, weeks after school starts.

In a news release, OUSD said the order is still on track for delivery within the first two weeks in August, but students won't be able to get them until later in the month. School is set to start on Aug. 10. Because of coronavirus, schools in at least half of the state that are on a watchlist must resume classes online, not in person.

Oakland is one of those school districts, which also has one of the biggest digital divides in the region between students who own computers and have access to WiFi, and those who do not. 

"While we cannot get the new computers into the hands of students in time for the start of the school year, in the spring, OUSD distributed 18,000 school-based computers to students on loan," the district said. "While it was not enough, it did provide access for most students in need as we were thrust into distance learning."

OUSD students will continue to use those computers until those who qualify can get a new Chromebook. OUSD has bought 5,000 temporary devices as additional “loaners.”

Ricardo Hutchinson said his 8-year-old special needs daughter is one of the students who doesn't own a computer and the family has no WiFi at home. He said he tried to get a loaner in the spring from Fruitvale Elementary, but because he walks with a cane and couldn't wait in line for a long time, so he wasn't able to get a device for her. 

"I can't stand too long," he said. "And the lines wrapped around the school. I never got a computer." 

Most of the new devices are expected to be distributed in late August and September, with students returning loaned devices upon receiving the new laptops, bought with donations from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Zynga founder Mark Pincus. 

District officials also said that they have been in negotiations with various internet providers to purchase uncapped internet plans, with no data limits, to ensure that students who currently have no internet access at home can access distance learning. At a meeting this summer, administrators said that about half the students don't have proper WiFi setups at home. 

To make sure that no one falls behind, all families with a student attending an Oakland public school will be asked to complete a Tech Check survey to provide updated information on students’ access to technology at home.

If families don't have the internet at home, the district said it will provide alternate methods for completing the survey, such as on paper, and in person. 

The district asks that families who are able to buy Chromebooks to purchase them now, so if the schools fall short at the beginning of the school year, the district can dedicate its loaner inventory to students with higher needs.

Students in other districts in California have tech needs, too. State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said Wednesday said that his department has already begun dispersing the $5.3 billion from the governor's office to local school districts, encouraging them to spend the money on technology.

To date, Thurmond said that 700,000 public school students still don't have computers and 300,000 don't have proper hot spots -- situations that could be theoretically remedied with some of that state money. 

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED: Learn more about #OaklandUndivided at www.oaklandedfund.org/digitaldivide 

If you want to donate a computer or hotspot, contact Seth@techexchange.org.

If you want to make a donation or discuss a potential financial contribution, contact: David Silver, Mayor’s Office of Education at Dsilver@oaklandca.gov; Jonathan Osler, Oakland Public Education Fund at jonathan@oaklandedfund.org or Curtiss Sarikey, Oakland Unified School District at curtiss.sarikey@ousd.org.