Online and On Time: Dallas ISD Hopes Virtual Learning 2.0 Goes the Distance

It will take $20 million, but a plan to get iPads and Chromebooks into the hands of Dallas ISD elementary students in time for school to start has been in the works all summer – and the district hopes to have all that technology distributed before school starts on Sept. 8.

The district will provide iPads to about 46,000 students in pre-K through second grade, and Chromebooks to 14,000 students in grades 3-5, with the bulk distributed in a phased handout by school and grade throughout the month of August.

The district’s technology department hosted drive-up deployment events at each elementary campus, and parents were given a backpack of supplies for each student that included an assigned computing device, charger, earbuds, and basic instructions for logging in. If needed, students can also take home mobile internet hotspots.

Middle school and high school students should already have hotspots and computing devices, the district said, but if they don’t, the district will be holding separate events for students that need replacement devices or are new to the district.

“We will finally realize our vision of providing one-to-one technology for every Dallas ISD student,” said Dallas ISD Chief Technology Officer Jack Kelanic. “The computer and home Internet access are foundational tools to help ensure every student is successful this school year.”

Internet connectivity was found to be a hurdle last spring when the district was forced to pivot suddenly to online learning. This fall, the district will also provide more hot spots for students without home internet access, with much of the funding for those hotspots coming from the district’s nonprofit philanthropic arm, The Dallas Education Foundation, and the 1Million Project Foundation.

“We were already heading in this direction of providing home Internet access, but now our work is urgent,” Kelanic said. “We’ve compressed a year’s work of technology rollout into three weeks. The challenge is ensuring we reach everyone.”

Funding for much of the technology initiative came after the state allocated $200 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for the purchase of technology to power distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state’s reimbursement process could mean that the district gets about $10 million for technology expenses related to the pandemic.

“As school districts delay the start of in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19, it is essential that we work to provide Texas students with the devices they need to connect and communicate online for classroom instruction,” said Governor Greg Abbott. “As we continue to combat COVID-19 in Texas, we are committed to providing reliable and effective solutions that will help students academically succeed while protecting public health.”

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