Looking at the HCPSS budget for devices, the proposal is to provide devices for all students, whether they need them at home or not.  It is also proposed to have 20% replacement ready to go in case of loss, stolen, breakage or failure.  Cost for 1 device:1 student is: $23M.  How often do they break?  Very often!  Cost for 20% replacement each year: $4.7M.   Bringing devices back and forth to school, especially for young children, is costly, accidents are bound to happen. Nearly 3750 devices have been reported lost or stolen in FY2022-21, at a cost of $1.5M.  

Have you noticed your kids play less outside and spend more time with chromebooks?  Exactly how much of that screen time is causing a problem with our children’s mental health?  According to the Mayo Clinic, too much screen time and regular exposure to poor-quality electronic contents has been linked to: obesity, inadequate sleep schedules and insufficient sleep, behavior problems, delays in language and social skills development, violence, attention problems, and less time learning.  Is it important that every student be able to watch YouTube and put up TikTok videos or would it be more equitable to ensure every student receives a quality education?  I believe we have to approach this in a different way.  

1.  We must recognize that shutting down school caused extreme harm to all our students and a full virtual option should never be considered again. The emergency preparation should focus on mitigation methods and sustaining in-person instruction. Therefore, 1:1 device is no longer necessary.  What is necessary is a plan to bring students into class even when our Covid numbers increase, or if any other communicable disease rears its ugly head in the future.   

2.  Elementary school children should not have a school device at home.  They need to be outside playing, not attached to a screen.  They can and should get their homework done with a piece of paper and a stubby pencil. It sounds uncool and rudimentary, but in reality, it stimulates more of the student’s senses and hightens learning. An added bonus is it costs a lot less money and the young student won’t be tempted to travel to internet locations unsupervised or simply google the answers. Let’s focus our budget on ensuring every elementary student leaves the fifth grade as proficient readers and math ready.  

3. According to the US Census, the median household income in our County is $124,042.  Many Howard County households have more than one computer at home. Parents I talked to said, they want their children to use the computers they have at home for at home schoolwork because they can monitor the use better, and they don’t have to worry about being charged when a school computer is damaged or lost. Does that mean everyone has a computer at home?  No. It means HCPSS should not be budgeting for a 1:1 student device ratio.  If a family requests a computer for their student, the school system should provide a computer.  To me that’s equity, if you need a computer to do your schoolwork, you get a computer to do your schoolwork.  If you don’t request a computer, you still have to do your schoolwork, that’s taking responsibility for your education. HCPSS should be fiscally responsible and spend taxpayer dollars for those who cannot afford a computer at home. The savings on this can go directly into lowering class size, a much better use of taxpayer dollars.

4.  A teacher suggested to me that many parents need training on helping their students navigate school use applications and how to monitor computer use. We have an obligation to educate parents as well, and do it in many languages. Let’s help our parents be partner’s in their child’s education by providing them the tools they need to keep their children safe, but learning, while online. 

5.  Finally, we have to limit the time all students are on computer screens at school. A computer should not take the place of hands-on teaching and learning for normal subjects.  It is more valuable for a student to actually conduct the experiment, observe the reaction, and write down the results rather than watch someone do the experiment online. Does that mean computers don’t have a role to play in our children’s education? Absolutely not. I can think of reasons why students should have access to a computer at school, not the least of which is allowing a student to take a class not offered at their school.  Again, that’s equity, no one should be denied an opportunity to learn because not enough students wanted to take a particular class at their school.

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