Brainerd High School now joins the majority of Minnesota schools in distributing school-issued laptops to students.

Starting next fall, Brainerd High School students will receive Chromebooks from the district, becoming one of at least 55 percent of Minnesota schools offering some sort of 1:1 device program, according to a 2016 study by the Minnesota Department of Education.

Sarah Porisch, director of the technology in the district, presented Brainerd School Board members with a 1:1 Chromebook policy and usage handbook Monday, Feb. 11.

Students in ninth through 12th grades who attend district schools for at least one class during the day will receive a charger and Chromebook before the school year starts, with distribution beginning the week of Aug. 19. Transfer students will be able to pick up computers in the technology office.

Policies

Students will receive regular training to address care and usage of their Chromebooks, as well as a tutorial on Google Apps and regular digital citizenship training to address respectful, responsible and ethical uses of the internet and digital tools.

Regular checks will be made to ensure Chromebooks are free of damage. If any damage is found, the student will be required to report it to the technology department.

Students must pay a one-time, non-refundable insurance charge on their computers. The cost varies depending on the student's grade at distribution and is as follows: ninth grade, $50; 10th grade, $40; 11th grade, $30; 12th grade, $20.

Free and reduced applications will available to waive the insurance charge for those who meet the requirements. The insurance charge will cover one repair. Students will be responsible for subsequent repairs or replacement.

Students will keep their computers over the summer and for the duration of the Chromebook cycle, which ends in 2023. They will be returned upon graduation, transfer or at the end of the cycle. Failure to return a computer will result in the student being charged the full price and ability of the district to file a stolen property report with the police department.

Students will be expected to bring their Chromebooks to school every day. If a laptop is left at home, a student will be able to check out a loaner device to use throughout the day, but every time a student does so is documented. Parents will be contacted if a students shows up to school three times in one month without their device. Subsequent incidents may result in a student not being allowed to bring their computer home.

Though students are permitted to bring their Chromebooks home each night and are encouraged to use them outside of school, they will be required to log in with their ISD 181 account, meaning the district may access and monitor usage at any time without a student's consent. District internet filters will be applied only on campus. Porisch suggested parents contact their internet providers if they wish to apply filters at home.

As a general precaution, no food or drinks should be next to a Chromebook while it's in use, and the computers must remain free of any writing, drawing or stickers. Students, may, however choose to purchase a device skin or case at their own expense.

Board feedback

"I'm excited for this initiative," board member Ruth Nelson said after reviewing the 1:1 policy, but she questioned the need to give a device to students who may just take one physical education or fine arts class in the district.

"Of course there's a balance between using technology and not using technology, but all of our subject areas will be using these devices in some way," Porisch said, noting it could be to communicate with students outside of school or reschedule any missed work.

Some art classes, she added, may use Google Drive for portfolios and other projects.

High school teacher Nicole Harmer, part of the handbook development team, said even in classes like choir, teachers might use the Chromebooks to schedule independent meetings with students or have virtual meetings.

"We want to make sure that the students that come to our classrooms have the same equal opportunity as any other student that's in any of our classrooms," Harmer said, noting she anticipates every classroom to use the laptops in some capacity.

On the subject of equality, board member and district parent Charles Black Lance asked about students who may not be able to pay for a repair if needed or those who don't have access to Wi-Fi at home.

"I love the idea of getting Chromebooks in our students' hands," Black Lance said. "I think it's great, and I support it, but I just want to make sure that we move forward considering those students that don't have those resources."

Porisch said the district will work with families on a case by case basis, with the goal of having some sort of restitution available for those unable to pay for repairs.

"This is part of our curriculum," she said. "This is part of how we're moving forward, so we will require (students) to have (Chromebooks), so we want to be able to work with the families."

In terms of Wi-Fi, Porisch mentioned a couple of district initiatives. To start, all Brainerd buses will be equipped with Wi-Fi beginning next year, thus extending the school day for many students who ride buses, especially those who live in rural areas and are less likely to have high-speed internet access at home.

Porisch said the district has a map that's about a year and a half old and shows the areas with students who don't have access to Wi-Fi, which will help district officials to mitigate the problem.

"We'll continue to work on that together," Porisch said.

In the meantime, staff will teach students how to download items-like worksheets or videos-before they leave school so those materials will be available on the Chromebooks without internet.

Board member Tom Haglin said he would like to see information on how many textbooks will be available on the Chromebooks to reduce the number of books students will have to carry and make sure the Chromebooks are used to their full potential.

"I'm in full support," Haglin said of the 1:1 initiative. "We're so far behind, so what I'm pushing for is, if we're only going to have two out of 100 books accessible on the Chrome, what do we have to do this fall to get 50 out of 100?"

Porisch said she can get that information for a future board meeting.

Overall benefits

BHS student Logan Svoboda, a member of the handbook development team, told the board of several benefits he sees with the issuance of Chromebooks.

He said the required use of the laptops will help students who wouldn't otherwise have access to such a device to develop necessary computer skills.

Backpacks will also be lighter as teachers add online textbooks to the devices and the computers may help students stay more organized.

"It's going to be way easier than having to pull out 20-some papers," Svoboda said. "Instead you just click a few buttons and find all your documents. And this would be way easier for all the kids to be able to get their work done."