With applications being released this week, the Guam Department of Education is hoping schools will begin distributing laptops to students before the end of next week.

"It's going to be at the school level to handle and to schedule that distribution," said education Superintendent Jon Fernandez.

The distribution is part of initiatives to increase online learning during the pandemic. Laptops will only be available for middle and high school students for now. The distribution plan was finalized this week, Fernandez said.

Some schools have already sent out application forms but the expectation is all schools will have sent out the applications to families by the end of the week. Parents should contact the schools if they are interested but haven't received an application.

The equipment is intended for students who don't have computer access at all and is not meant to be a first-come, first-served general distribution for the entire student population, Fernandez said.

While the department is relying on the honor system when it comes to the applications, the schools have model-of-learning input from parents that was obtained prior to the beginning of the school year to help validate requests.

"It really is for those who have a need for the equipment," Fernandez said. "I know the schools are reviewing not only the applications they're getting this round, but there was a model-of-learning application that was submitted in the summer as well, which had information from students regarding their access to equipment and access to the internet."

GDOE won't be able to address internet access gaps at this time, but the department is aware that there are students under the hard-copy home learning model who could move into online learning if they had the laptops available.

If there aren't enough laptops to assist all students in need of the equipment, then perhaps the department will look at going first-come, first-served, Fernandez said. But GDOE doesn't yet know if that will be the case.

8,000 laptops in first round

The department is initially counting about 8,000 laptops available this round, taken from existing inventory purchased through consolidated grants. Fernandez said it's possible the department will be able to meet demand.

"But we won't know that until the application process is completed," he said.

At the same time, the department is still in the process of assessing its equipment and ensuring it is workable to get a final inventory count. The final tallies for demand and inventory will come next week.

GDOE is looking at laptops three years old or newer to distribute to students. These were initially purchased to support classroom use, but the pandemic fostered a change of purpose, Fernandez said.

An additional 10,000 computers are being purchased using the Educational Stabilization Fund from the CARES Act, and those are expected to arrive in December.

"We'll also look to ensure that anyone not able to be addressed in this Phase 1 will have some level of priority for the next round of equipment," Fernandez said.

There should be some accountability for losing or damaging the laptops, he said. The last issue discussed on the laptop topic was to address fairness, and ensure that liability will reflect the current value of the laptop, as some of them are a few years old and have depreciated in value, Fernandez said.

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