Gallatin High Ribbon Cutting

New students, faculty and staff check out the interior of Bozeman's new high school, Gallatin High, following a dedication ceremony on Monday afternoon, Aug. 17, 2020.

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In a push to provide every student with a Chromebook or iPad for this school year, the Bozeman School District is running up against a national shortage of devices and a strained supply chain.

The district expects to be short 475 Chromebooks and 900 iPads by the Sept. 8 start date, according to Casey Bertram, deputy superintendent in charge of curriculum and technology for the district.

But he said the schools would have enough devices to supply a Chromebook or iPad to those students who did not have access to a device in the family or home.

The district has 600 iPads, provided to pre-K through second grade, and expects to receive the remaining 900 iPads by mid-September, according to Bertram.

He said the Chromebooks, provided to third through 12th grade, have been harder to get. The state vendor supplying the 475 additional Chromebooks estimates they will arrive in October or November, he said.

“The COVID-related remote and blended learning demands are significant,” Bertram said. “Many school districts all over the country are ordering devices so the delays are longer.”

The purchase of the new devices is possible because of additional coronavirus funding the district received.

“It’s not typical that we can go out and buy 900 iPads and squeeze that in the budget,” Bertram said. “But the funding is there because these purchases are necessary.”

During a school board meeting last week, Bob Connors, superintendent of the district, said they were in good shape compared to other cities in Montana. He referenced school districts in Missoula and Great Falls that recently had orders of 3,000 and 2,500 devices from China delayed at the port in Seattle.

The district’s delays are part of a nationwide shortage as school districts across the country increased orders. Laptop sales in the U.S. began climbing in March, as both students and adults began working from home, according to a report by Axios, an online news organization.

Lenovo, HP and Dell — the three largest computer companies — have all reported a shortage of roughly 5 million laptops, an Associated Press investigation found.

The investigation discovered sanctions on Chinese suppliers by the United States accounted for some of the delays, including several models of Lenovo laptops. The sanctions — passed earlier this summer — were directed at companies connected to human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and forced labor camps in Xinjiang, China.

To cope with the delays, Bertram said the district would take stock of the devices returned at the end of the previous school year and prioritize those that do not have access to any other device in their home.

Each school will be responsible for communicating with the families to determine who needs a device first. Whether students opted for the blended model — two days of in-person learning and three days remote — or 100% remote will not be a factor.

To date, roughly 1,000 of the 7,252 students have opted for 100% remote learning, according to the district.

Betram said the district feels more confident in its ability to provide devices “versus providing some kind of WiFi en masse to students.”

While the number of students without any access to a reliable internet source is lower than the district expected, they are still working out the best way to provide support to those with no or limited access.

Bertram said he expects the number of students without access to a device has not changed since schools first went remote in the spring. After providing Chromebooks from its supply of 5,200 devices to high priority students, the district had devices remaining.

“We met the needs in the spring and we’ll meet the needs in the fall,” he said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.