Livermore schools are already looking toward the coming academic year to address the technology needs of all students, whether they head back to campus or continue at-home education.

Sending all students home to finish the year revealed that 23 percent of students needed a laptop or other device to complete their schoolwork, said Kelly Bowers, superintendent of Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD).

“Distance learning proved that we need equitable access to all students,” she told the board of education at last week’s meeting. “There shouldn’t be a digital divide.”

While distance learning from March to the end of the school year, the district provided 3,023 Chromebooks to students, mostly to students who qualified for subsidized lunch programs, or were English language learners or homeless, Bowers said.

The Rotary Club of Livermore funded some of the Chromebooks for students at Junction Avenue School. The organization donated $5,000 that would have usually funded enrichment programs like field trips, which couldn’t take place this year because of COVID-19.

Just last week, the Livermore Valley Education Foundation gave LVJUSD $30,000, which will fund about 104 Chromebooks for students, said assistant superintended Mike Biondi.

Addressing Teacher Needs

The district also provided additional support to many teachers needing upgraded equipment to teach from home.

While facing budget cuts from the state for the coming school year, Bowers said the district would be grateful to any donors who step forward — whether through the foundation or directly to the district — so it can provide Chromebooks and laptops to students and staff.

“People at the district office told us their biggest need right now was Chromebooks for students,” said Dana Rowley, president of LVEF. “This amount was a starting place. We don’t know how much the district will need until the state passes a revised budget. The foundation expects to make another contribution for student Chromebooks and teacher laptops.”

Internet Access for All

Besides lacking computers, Bowers said many students don’t have high-speed internet access at home necessary to access web conferencing services teachers were using during the spring.

In most cases, students’ households were able to get reduced-cost internet service from their cable provider, said chief technology officer Geoff Warner. In some cases, students were able to establish hot spots from their phones if they had unlimited data. Others who lived close enough to a school campus were able to access the school’s extended, secured wireless network.

As the disparity is hardly unique to Livermore, school officials and board members are working with state and federal representatives as part of broader initiatives to make the internet available to everyone.

Roadmap to Reopening Schools

The efforts go in tandem with not knowing what school will look like come Aug. 25, marked as the first day of school on the calendar.

The district is preparing a roadmap for what reopening may look like, developing several contingency plans to be flexible and conform to public health guidelines at that time, while offering families options that will work for them.

Bowers’ first choice is for students to return to campus, with instituted health screening (temperature checks), personal protective equipment and enhanced sanitation procedures. Social distancing may still also be required.

Bowers said some parents expressed interest in a hybrid approach that combines on-campus classes with at-home education to preserve flexibility and social distancing.

Still other parents favor continuing distance learning — more like independent study — until a vaccine for coronavirus becomes widely available, she said.

Right now, the district isn’t committing to any plan because there are still more questions than answers, and the first day of school is a couple of months off.

“I appreciate that we’re not making a decision right now for August,” said school board member Emily Prusso. “We have more time and we see how quickly things can change.”

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