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A device in every hand during COVID-19

Learn how one district handles the chaos of pandemic asset management

For Sandra Paul, Director of of Information Technology at the Township of Union Public Schools in Northern New Jersey, the goal is simple—every one of the 7,200 kids in her district must have a device this fall.

How to accomplish this? Not so simple.

In this conversation with eSchool News, Sandra details her asset management tactics for whatever scenario her district winds up with—in person, hybrid, or remote.

Related content: Using feedback and flexibility to navigate COVID-19 this fall

eSN: So what’s your current situation as of this moment?

SP: For right now we have a one-to-one strategy using Chromebooks for every student from grade six to 12. Before the pandemic situation, only our senior students were able to take home their devices. When the shutdown came, we let kids from grades nine to 12 take home their Chromebooks but the middle school devices were still in carts and we had to figure out a way to get them out of there. We invited parents to come in and they were able to pick up a device if they wanted to. For the elementary levels, we didn’t have a one-to-one situation so whatever was available is what we distributed.

I was about to replace the fleet of Chromebooks at the high school but Google was good enough to offer us an extra year of support. So with that in mind, we’re going to be using the older Chromebooks to kind of balance it out as much as possible. It can be a logistical nightmare trying to figure out what to do, but we’re getting there.

My ultimate goal is to make sure every student has a device K through 12th grade because that way I know that whatever situation they may be placed in back home—whether or not they have their device—it’s not something that you’re taking away from another sibling that may be in college or is working or even their parents.

eSN: Why no Bring-Your-Own-Device scenario?

SP: We’re not gonna do that. We do have a certain percentage that have their stuff but the reason why we haven’t taken that course is because we want to make sure we follow all the federal guidelines for HIPAA, CIPA, COPPA, FERPA, et cetera—every acronym that’s out there—making sure we follow those guidelines.

We also want devices that we can control. We use a product called Go Guardian, which does our web filtering but also has a feature called GoGuardian teacher. So even though it may be remote learning, the teacher would still be able to see what a kid is doing on their actual device. And you can make comments, and guide students in a synchronous format.

Another part of it is tech support. It’s our device. We prefer to be able to support our outreach. We don’t want to be in that position where a device breaks on us as an IT team, but it’s not ours.

eSN: Security becomes an issue, too, right?

SP: The cybersecurity thing is really big, especially in this remote learning environment. Because if you have devices off the network, even through phones, that’s an open window for ransomware attacks or other sorts of malware attacks. We’re a Google school district. So a lot of our stuff is being filtered via Google, but it’s not the only filter we have. We’re also a Cisco shop. One of the things we have is we also have an additional filtering system called Umbrella. So, you know, our email goes through our umbrella system before it even hits Google. Besides that, we have Cisco CloudLock, which checks the Google docs. So therefore we have redundancy. It’s making sure the cloud is also covered. Somebody may say I’m overthinking it or I have more than I need. I know I can’t be covered 100%. But if I can get us as close as possible to a hundred percent, I would rather have the resources available.

eSN: Sounds exhausting.

SP: We all have to be patient. We have to be gracious to people. We have to be understanding. One of the things that happened that I didn’t anticipate was how many teachers also are in the same situation that they don’t have a device. I almost didn’t have resources for that, but I did the best I could with whatever I had. Unfortunately, that meant using older laptops that I’m hoping to collect and never use again.

Coming next week: A conversation with Stacy Barber Royster, Technology Director/CTO at Opelika City Schools, OK. Does your district have ideas to share? Send them to

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