COVID-19 numbers force East Hall High to cancel in-person instruction beginning Monday
East Hall High School will operate remotely beginning Monday, Dec. 7, and continuing for at least three days. The Hall County School System made the announcement Friday afternoon following a significant amount of absences among staff and students resulting from COVID-19 positive cases.
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Schools still a few steps away from take-home devices
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Spanish teacher Anacecilia Ananos, students Nicole Hitke, left, and Joanna Mendoza and their KUNO tablets last week at Fair Street Elementary School. School officials hope to let students take home the tablets by the next school year, after potential liability problems are settled. - photo by NAT GURLEY

When the new Fair Street School building opened in October 2013, it was the Gainesville city school system’s goal for all of those students to have their own school-issued tablet devices with the intent of eventually taking those home.

Gainesville’s Director of Technology Keith Palmer is still looking at how that goal can be realized.

“There are some obscure legalities involved in the responsibility you assign to the students and parents,” Palmer said. “At Fair Street, we are talking about kids ages 8 through 11, who obviously can’t sign and be bound to a legal document. So the parents have to, but there are still many loopholes involved.”

The elementary school students have been issued KUNO tablets, devices specifically designed with education in mind. When students log in to their home screens, they see eight individual buckets for their various apps, books and assignments that teachers load onto the devices.

The goal is for teachers to be able to load all the schoolwork and information each student needs; then, the student would be able to take the device home and have everything right at his or her fingertips. The teacher could then easily access the work the student did the next day.

“We are still waiting for additional advisement, software support, etc.,” Fair Street Principal Will Campbell said. “Hopefully next school year, we will be poised to send them home.”

The issue of students taking home school-issued electronics has been in national news with focus on the Los Angeles Unified School District in California banning the practice in September when some of the devices were hacked.

Hall County School District’s Executive Director for Technology Aaron Turpin said it’s not as simple as making sure every student has a device, which is one of the problems outside school systems have had in implementing take-home policies.

“Like in Maine and at LA Unified, they went wholeheartedly on iPads,” Turpin said. “Well, what was their instructional design? What were their goals?”

The Hall County School District doesn’t have a specific one-to-one initiative, though students are encouraged to bring their own personal devices.

“We have on any given day over 11,000 personal devices that attach to our network,” he said. “We see everything from a smartphone all the way to a full-fledged laptop that’s allowed the kids to connect to the resources of the world.”

Turpin added some teachers and principals maneuver resources so there is a one-to-one environment in a classroom or subject area.

While a specific one-to-one initiative isn’t currently on the radar for Hall County schools, it’s a goal of Gainesville’s Palmer to get a device in the hands of every student.

It doesn’t come without a price. The system spent $333,000, which includes insurance on each device, for the 555 KUNO tablets at Fair Street.

“I am constantly aware that these devices were purchased with taxpayer monies,” Palmer said. “It is our responsibility to take every precaution possible to protect their investment. So one reason we looked into the KUNO device as opposed to Apple iPads or others was that the KUNO has no real street value. It won’t do anything other than what the classroom teacher assigns it.”

Devices like the KUNO, other education-specific tablets and even iPads are in the future of education, Palmer added, as more widespread Internet access has made research instantaneous. They’re also important because so many young children prefer to use those kinds of devices rather than traditional books.

“Those who might scoff at that would do well to realize that at one time printed books were so valuable that only a select few had access to them,” he said. “The issue will only really be resolved when tablet devices become ubiquitous and truly affordable for everyone. Again, much like their predecessor, the printed book.”

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