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 Original article can be found at The Mercury.

Rafael Garcia; March 26, 2020

The Manhattan-Ogden school district will rent 1,500 mobile data hotspots and purchase three months of insurance for its iPads for a total of nearly $400,000 as part of its emergency efforts to implement a continuous learning plan.

The school board met Wednesday evening, with all board members but president Karla Hagemeister calling in via Zoom video conferencing to stay under the 10-person limit on public gatherings ordered by the state. Some administrators met with Hagemeister in the conference room, while others called into the video conference from other rooms in the building.

A state task force on continuous learning last week issued a list of recommendations to Kansas school districts, providing them with three recommended approaches for implementing continuous learning plans: virtual, packet and face-to-face. Face-to-face education would allow the district to continue in-person instruction for some students, limited to groups of 10 people at a time, but superintendent Marvin Wade said that was not an option the district would pursue. 

Initially, the elementary schools will work on a packet approach, said executive director of teaching and learning Paula Hough. For the first two weeks, families will receive a packet of instructional materials, either when they come pick up personal belongings at the school or by online distribution.

But as for the district’s long-term plans, administrators hope to start using online learning methods, once the district can ensure equal access to those materials. The results of a family survey show that several district families don’t have adequate internet access.

Mike Ribble, director of information technology for the district, said that in his discussions with other district leaders, the administrators determined that the best way to address that issue was to rent the 1,500 mobile data hotspots from Kajeet, a wireless provider, for $382,500. Families in need of internet access will take those hotspots home, and those hotspots will use mobile data from Verizon to provide local WiFi access at those families’s homes.

Ribble said the contract for the hotspots runs for six months of service, during which students will have 3 GB of data per month at 4G internet speeds. Data won’t be cut off after the cap, Ribble said, but it would be throttled, or slowed down. He said after consultations with teachers, he felt the 3 GB would be enough for most needs.

The district will have the option of pausing the service during the summer months, should further use of the devices become necessary in the fall, he said.

Ribble and other district administrators also asked the board to approve $16,000 in insurance for three months on the district’s 2,000 iPads. 

“We’ve never sent devices home, so we wanted to have some protection, so if they were lost or if they were stolen, our parents wouldn’t feel like they were hit upon with (another financial burden),” he said.

Under the contract, the district pays no deductible in the event of loss or damage, he said.

“If they break a screen, or if they drop it in water — if a lightning storm comes and strikes it — it’s completely covered,” he said.

Ribble said several companies have made their products free to use or offered extended trials, such as Lightspeed, a web filtering software that allows the district to block certain website access. Ribble said that software is installed on the iPads that will be handed out to students over the next week.

Ribble and a team of about six department staffers worked since last Thursday to prepare the 2,000 iPads for student distribution this coming week. Schools will be in contact with individual families to arrange times for pick up of personal items, educational packets and other materials.

District staff also gave the board an update on other department’s efforts to adapt to the continuous learning process.

Stephanie Smith, director of child nutrition, said the district is now offering free hot lunches and the next-day’s breakfast at eight schools, as well as cold lunches and breakfast at seven remote sites. She said her department is adapting as the U.S. Department of Agriculture relaxes some regulations on the lunches to accommodate the unprecedented situation.

Matt Davis, director of maintenance and facilities, said custodial teams continue to clean and sanitize buildings. With children out of the buildings now, some of the teams have gotten started on summer cleaning projects and furniture moving.

Executive director of teaching and learning Paula Hough said school staff also will send conduct family wellness checks and visit with each family to determine what needs they might have, if any.

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