Nacogdoches ISD’s board in special session Monday unanimously approved purchasing nearly 5,000 computers for students along with 500 internet hotspots at a cost of around $780,000, but the tech upgrade won’t arrive before classes starts.

“This is an expensive step but a necessary step,” board member Dr. Tyrrel Grohman said, joined by board president Pam Fitch who called the purchase “an exciting step for our students.”

Delivery for the more than 1,600 iPads for prekindergarten though second grade students and nearly 3,500 Dell Chromebook laptops for older students is expected to take “between 10 and 12 weeks,” said Deputy Superintendent Michael Martin.

NISD classes start Aug. 31 with a focus on virtual learning while slowly phasing students back onto campus by late September. District officials are still hashing out details of how the phase-in will work and what percentages of students will be allowed back on campuses each week.

Some district-owned tech devices will be available to students when class begins, so the purchase Monday will allow every student to have a device. NISD officials said they have some laptops and iPads that were purchased during the past academic year that haven’t been used yet. More than 2,000 families have said they have their own internet-capable device, Superintendent Gabe Trujillo said.

“Our goal is that we provide our families with the support so if they’ve got three kids in the house, they won’t all three have to share a device,” he said.

The 500 mobile hotspots — 400 from AT&T and 100 from Verizon — are intended to help alleviate internet access capabilities that have been especially amplified around rural America because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hot spots are devices that provide internet service though the same wireless signals used in cellphones.

Low-income families who do not have internet access will be given priorities when the hotspots are handed out, Trujillo said. The district is also working to partner with businesses, churches and organizations that will allow students to use their wireless internet to turn in completed assignments and download new ones.

“We’re extending our arms out to the whole community to see if we can wrap our arms around each other in support,” Trujillo said.

Last week, the school board approved purchasing 624 laptop computers for district educators at a price of around $717,000 and learned that the Texas Education Agency would cover half the cost for purchasing electronic devices for economically disadvantaged students. Approximately 80% of NISD’s students fall into that category. The $780,000 they approved to spend Monday covers the additional 20%, but it won’t be the last they spend on those computers.

Each iPad and Chromebook will require a case and safety software designed to filter internet access and prevent contact with child predators, Martin said. The district will have to spend an additional half million dollars “to make this work,” Martin said.

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