In the November 17th school board meeting, Clarke Community Schools passed a proposal for the acquisition of additional technology for students in the district who may not have sufficient internet access. This action was taken as a preparatory measure in the case of increased COVID-19 rates and the potential need to go back to virtual learning throughout the district.
Utilizing CARES Act funding provided through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the district is working to procure technology in the form of wireless tablets that will close the gap for students needing internet access and internet signals strong enough to meet the demand of online learning.
“This is first and foremost a precautionary measure,” said Steve Seid, Clarke Community Schools Superintendent. “We need to be prepared in the case of a COVID surge and a mandated return to virtual learning.”
Through research and price comparisons, the district found Apple iPads, similar to devices some Clarke students use, were unavailable. Ultimately, they were able to work with the local US Cellular representatives to reserve LG Android devices that are not only better suited for the Google docs and online programming currently used by the students, but also provide unlimited cellular data. This will make access to the bandwidth needed for viewing and interacting with online documents, video streaming, and virtual classrooms for each student easier.
“We just wanted to make sure we’re providing equal educational opportunities to each and every Clarke student,” said Dena White, Clarke Community Schools Board President. “Should virtual learning be required, this will help bridge the technology gap for many students.”
Based on preliminary numbers from the Spring of 2020 virtual learning scenario, upwards of 400 students may need help with sufficient internet bandwidth or even service. This made access to online classes a struggle and an impossibility for some.
A current survey of digital access and technology need is being made throughout the district, and as numbers are documented, devices will be reserved and readied for use. This will include loading the Clarke online learning software as well as assuring an unlimited bandwidth will be available for each.
Through an agreement with US Cellular, the digital devices would be leased to the district for less than $50.00 per unit, per month. With a six month commitment, the school would then be able to review the need for continuation of the lease; opt for a discounted purchase of all of the used devices – integrating them into the district permanently – or to find alternative digital access solutions.
“From the teachers’ perspective, we simply want is equitable access for every Clarke student.” said Clarke Community Schools Teachers’ Union Representative, Jamie Porter. “The purchase of these devices will facilitate the best opportunity for all students if online classes are required.”
Final decisions about the lease of the digital devices will be contingent upon county positivity rates, district absenteeism rates, as well as the need determined by the survey taking place throughout the district.
According to the most recent information from the State of Iowa, Iowa schools must have a positive coronavirus test rate of at least 15% in their county and have at least 10% absenteeism among students before they can receive a state waiver to transition to fully online learning. Currently, Clarke County’s 14-day positivity rate average is 13.7%, Decatur County is at 16.3% and Lucas County is at 11.0% (a 13.6% average for the Clarke school district). Clarke school district’s absentee rate at the time of this article’s writing, is at an 8.25% average for the week.