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N.H. School Districts Try to Address Digital Divide Amid Nationwide Shortages

Flickr/Martin Bekkelund

A nationwide shortage of remote learning resources during the pandemic means the states’s largest school districts - Nashua and Manchester – are short thousands of Chromebook laptops.

The Nashua School District already distributed about 7,000 Chromebooks this fall, but some families have started remote learning without computers at home.

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Greg Rodriguez, the district’s technology director, says manufacturers may take two to three months to be able to fulfill the school's orders for 3,500 more Chromebooks.

With most teachers and students logging into classes virtually, Rodriguez is fielding about four times as many IT requests from teachers and students as before the pandemic.

“It’s a triage type of moment we’re in right now,” he says.

Internet access posed a major concern for rural and low-income districts last spring, but Rodriguez says Nashua is making headway this fall. The internet system at schools is getting an overhaul, which will allow teachers to work in the building even if classes remain remote, and the Boys and Girls Club is working to provide internet to families without internet.

In Manchester, the district is using grant funds to help pay for internet for about 150 families that reported not having any.

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It is also awaiting an order of over 3,000 chromebooks later this fall.

Credit Sara Plourde / NHPR

While Chromebooks are relatively cheap (Manchester purchases them for under $200), their processing speed is posing a problem for some students when they try to log onto complicated platforms or use Zoom for videoconferencing.

Stephen Cross, who manages technology for the Manchester School District, says the Chromebooks’ limitations are worse for teachers. The district is awaiting 800 laptops for teachers, but nationwide shortages could delay them until the end of 2020.

In the meantime, many teachers are opting to use their own computers instead.

“Until we get these laptops in, we're going to have a situation where teachers won't have sufficient hardware,” Cross says.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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