Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools officials expressed alarm this week after learning significant numbers of student electronic tablets not being returned and, in some cases, lost, stolen or sold.
Amber Godfrey, director of technology services for ECPPS, told Board of Education members Monday that 210 ChromeBooks have not been returned by students who withdrew during the current school year, and another 10 devices have been lost, stolen or sold.
That’s about 4.5 percent of all Chromebooks assigned to students.
According to Godfrey, 4,783 students in grades pre-K through 12th have an ECPPS device. Although all students are eligible to receive a device, 417 have chosen not to get one from the school district. About 90 percent of those choosing not to use an ECPPS device are students in the secondary grades, she said.
Board member Pam Pureza asked Godfrey what steps officials are taking to recover ChromeBooks from students who have withdrawn from the district.
Godfrey said if students do not return the Chromebook assigned to them, tech department employees will try to reach students by phone.
“Sometimes they bring the devices back,” Godfrey said. “Most of the time they don’t.”
Godfrey said staff have discussed sending a certified letter to the students’ parents. She noted, though, that sometimes the district does not get updated addresses or phone numbers for families.
“So sometimes it’s a lesson in futility,” she said. While some of the ChromeBooks have been returned, 210 have not been, she said.
Board of Education Chairwoman Sharon Warden asked if ECPPS could withhold student records when they went to enroll in a new school district.
Interim Superintendent Rhonda James-Davis said she will check but doesn’t think it is permissible now to withhold student records.
Board member Rodney Walton asked about the district’s current procedures when ChromeBooks are assigned.
Godfrey said parents fill out paperwork when students get a device that explains that they are responsible for the cost if the device is not returned. But currently it’s very hard to enforce that, she said.
“I think it’s something that we definitely need to have more conversation about,” Godfrey said.
Warden said she’s concerned about the 210 devices that have not been returned.
Pureza asked about situations where families have reported that someone in their household has sold the device.
“Then what do we do? Are we’re giving them another device?” Pureza asked.
She noted that there are 10 cases where someone from the household has either stolen, lost or sold a device.
“We currently do give them another device,” Godfrey responded.
She said ECPPS staff have determined that students shouldn’t be held responsible for something their parents have done.
Because parents have signed paperwork stating they are responsible for the device, the district can bill them for it, she said. But that doesn’t mean the district can collect.
“We have given bills in the past but they don’t get paid,” Godfrey said.
Board member Virginia Houston asked if the information about devices being stolen or sold is something the district knows or “have we heard this?”
“Do we know that it’s not hearsay?” Houston asked. “Do we know definitively that this is happening?”
Some students have reported that their parents have sold their devices, Godfrey said.
“So I would say that’s definitive,” she said. “Of course the parents haven’t told us that they sold” the devices. “But the students have told us that their parents sold their device.”
The school district requires a police report when the device is reported as stolen, Godfrey said. She also noted that access to stolen and sold devices is blocked, so they can’t be used by anyone who now has them.
Board member Daniel Spence asked whether the district had consulted with its attorney on the issue. He said he’s concerned that the number of devices being sold could increase.
James-Davis said she would check with ECPPS’ attorney about what can be done.
Godfrey said she would be glad to check with other school districts in the state and report back to the board on next steps in recovering some of the devices.
“I think that’s a good plan,” Warden said.
Warden also asked if the devices are insured.
Rachael Haines, ECPPS’ chief finance officer, said she’s not aware of a policy that covers all the ChromeBooks but would check and report back to the board.
Citing the urgency, Warden said the board will discuss next week both the question of insurance and what can be done to recover missing devices.
School officials also heard a report on the wear-and-tear on the district’s ChromeBooks.
During the past six weeks 405 devices have been returned, and 74 of them were unrepairable, according to Godfrey.
Repairing student devices has become a much larger part of the ECPPS’ technology team’s work since the district began remote learning last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previously one employee was spending 15 hours a week doing repairs on student devices, Godfrey said, but now two people are working on repairs a total of 80 hours a week.