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Positive COVID test, technology dearth triggers delays at Lansing School District

Hundreds of students still missing laptops and iPads for virtual instruction

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FRIDAY, Aug. 28 — An employee who tested positive for COVID-19 prompted the Lansing School District to delay the upcoming school year from Monday until Sept. 8. But amid a struggle to buy laptops for students, district officials said the delay would have likely happened regardless.

“Unfortunately, at this time, some students don’t have devices in their hands,” School Board President Gabrielle Lawrence said today. “Some of them wouldn’t have been equipped by Monday, but we hope they’ll all have them by Sept. 8.”

District officials announced plans in July to start the school year with virtual screen-to-screen instruction for most students and to open a limited number of “learning labs” for in-person lessons — sparking a massive technology purchasing operation to supply up to 10,000 Chromebooks or iPads to the students that needed them to access their online learning plans.

More than 7,800 devices have been distributed to students, but Superintendent Sam Sinicropi said he learned on Wednesday that the district was still short by at least a few hundred laptops. And without having those available to students, online learning simply cannot continue, he said.

More than 3,800 devices ordered in April still haven’t arrived as district officials scramble to rewire Dell laptops into makeshift Chromebooks, Sinicropi added. If all goes as planned, all students that need access to laptops or iPads will have one made available by early next week.

“Hopefully somewhere down the road, we’ll be face-to-face,” Sinicropi said, emphasizing that health and safety remains a top priority. “We know that’s the best thing for students and staff.”

The delay was first attributed solely to a possible contamination risk from the infected employee and a need for enhanced cleaning. Despite the virtual format, many teachers still use their classrooms to give lessons over the internet, officials said.

Sinicropi later clarified, however, that the delay would have likely happened regardless after he fully realized the extent of the technology shortage on Wednesday. District officials scrambled to fill the gap over the last two days before deciding to toss in the towel on Thursday evening.

There’s also a “small chance” that the infected employee was in direct contact with other district employees, Sinicropi added. Those employees will be notified — if they haven’t been already — about their potential exposure by Health Department contact tracers, as deemed appropriate.

The combination of those two concerns helped solidify next week’s delay, officials added.

The delayed start also isn’t expected to drag out the school year into the summer months, officials explained. Michigan lawmakers have temporarily waived requirements that students receive a full 180 days — or 1,098 hours — of instruction over the course of the school year.

“It’s not like we’re going to have to reimagine the entire school calendar,” Sinicropi added.

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