Due to a series of market and logistical factors, a shipment of over 30,000 laptops ordered by Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD in the springtime is not expected to make it into the hands of students until the school year is already well underway.
The delay doesn’t necessarily mean every student will lack a device provided by their school. According to Lauro Davalos, assistant superintendent for technology, about 10,000 devices the district has from previous orders are already being distributed.
The delay does mean that PSJA ISD won’t meet its goal of providing every student with an electronic device by the time class starts on Sept. 7, which prompted board members to express their disappointment at a meeting Monday evening.
JJ DePalma, a Lenovo representative, explained the delay at the meeting, saying a variety of factors contributed to the setback.
“It’s been a disruption that nobody could have predicted and we really are in unprecedented times,” he said.
DePalma listed logistical problems caused by the pandemic, a shortage in Intel processors and a surge in demand as factors in the delay.
Despite that, a significant number of the devices were still on track to be delivered in August or September, but yet another problem that cropped up in July bumped the delivery date even further down the road.
“In addition to that, in late July word came down from the U.S. Department of Commerce that they had brought allegations against one of our contractors that actually builds the majority of our student and education devices, including the devices ordered by the district,” DePalma said. “They had brought allegations of human rights violations against this contractor of ours.”
DePalma says Lenovo immediately cut ties with the contractor and put plans in place to move manufacturing facilities, steps that mean none of those Chromebooks will be arriving in the Rio Grande Valley until late September at the earliest.
DePalma said 3,000 of the devices are slated to leave their facility by Sept. 25.
“You are receiving the highest priority,” he told the board. “This is more than 50% of the supply that we have for these devices in the month of September.”
Davalos says that those 3,000 devices will be the second shipment of an order for 32,496 devices the district placed in the spring. The district has already received 1,000 Chromebooks out of the order, meaning more than 28,000 devices the district is waiting on aren’t likely to show up any time before October.
Davalos said the district started making orders for devices in mid-April.
“We had never experienced this delay in terms of distribution,” he told the board Monday. “In previous times they have gotten here in three, four weeks at the most, so this is something that we didn’t really anticipate.”
Other companies approached by the district after the delays began couldn’t offer any faster timelines, Davalos said.
Board member Carlos G. Villegas Jr. called the situation unacceptable at Monday’s meeting.
“People aren’t going to be happy with that at all, I know because that’s what they’re saying already,” he said. “I’m not happy with it, but we’re in it already.”
Secretary-Treasurer Jesus “Jesse” Vela Jr. echoed that disappointment, and urged finding a way to make some sort of contact between teachers and students without devices, perhaps through television or phones.
He said he was concerned the delay would disproportionately affect students from lower-income households.
“The students that can afford it, they’ll have a laptop,” he said. “But my concern is the great majority of them cannot afford a laptop, and then we have families with three or four family members at different grade levels, so you have added dynamics.”
Those students, Vela said, are at risk for falling behind academically.
“The children are going to be the ones, obviously, that are going to fall through the cracks,” he said. “The homework gap, again; the achievement gap, again; the children that need it the most, really everybody needs it, but the children that need it the most are ELL children, they’re bilingual children, all of those children, and I’m really concerned about those children.”
Despite the concern, Superintendent Jose Arredondo said the district has taken steps to ensure students don’t fall behind while they’re waiting on those new electronic devices.
So far only around 6,500 of the district’s 31,186 students have requested a device, Arredondo said Wednesday, requests that are being filled with the 10,000 Winbooks, Chrome-devices and iPads already in the district’s possession.
“Based on the needs and the data that we have in terms of what our parents share with us, we should be there, and then as time goes on it’ll be a great opportunity for us to be able to update them with some newer devices for those families,” he said.
Although over half of those devices are three to five years old, Asst. Superintendent Davalos said they’re still functional.
“These iPads are still able to connect to the internet and students are able to login and participate in the Google classroom through the learning management system that we have identified for our district,” he said.
Arredondo said other initiatives are running more smoothly than the electronic device order. He said at Monday’s meeting that consumable curriculum like textbooks and supplies will be available for every student before the first day of school. On the technological front, the district is offering virtual learning academies for parents and has deployed 119 buses to bring WiFi to students’ front door.
“We’ve already done our legwork and identified where those families in the community are, and we actually have them already out there right now,” he said.
Still, Arredondo acknowledged the delay was unfortunate but pointed out that the delay and the issues that caused it are hardly unique to PSJA ISD.
“My cousin who works in the technology industry, he works for Google now but he’s worked for Microsoft and Amazon, he said it’s like 10,000 people in the desert and everybody’s trying to drink out of the same cup,” Arredondo said.