The DeSoto County School District Board of Education has applied for and expects to get funding with the goal of giving each student and teacher a mobile device for use in distance learning.
Board members approved the application during a special called meeting Thursday morning, Aug. 27, in Hernando. With a Sept. 1 deadline for application, the district needed to approve its application before its next regular meeting on Sept. 3, which was the reason for holding the meeting on Thursday.
Called the Equity in Distance Learning Act (EDLA), the Mississippi State Legislature is providing $150 million in funds to the state Department of Education to be available to public school districts. DeSoto County Schools (DCS) is able to get almost $13 million under the measure, titled Senate Bill 3044.
The money came to the state through federal COVID stimulus funds. DCS provides a 20 percent match as part of its participation.
EDLA will provide software to deliver instruction, enhanced internet connectivity and professional development for digital teaching and learning.
The goal of the program, for DeSoto County Schools, is to make available a total of 27,770 Netbooks and 4,428 iPads to students and teachers.
“This is something that everyone saw as a glaring weakness in the spring during the fourth nine weeks when distance learning was implemented,” said DCS Supt. Cory Uselton. “This will benefit us if we ever have another statewide closure and will benefit us in a regular school year. Students will have more access to technology in the classroom, and at home.”
Along with having a mobile device available to teachers and students to use through June 2023, DCS is implementing a learning management system called Schoology and will implement a device management system.
Students, teachers, and parents must abide by acceptable use policies and must comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act, or CIPA, which is meant to protect children from obscene or harmful material on the internet.
The estimated cost of the devices is more than $19.5 million with the EDLA funding to DCS at nearly $12.66 million. The application, approved by the school board Thursday morning, included the ability to amend it if the State Department of Education approves more money for the district, which Chief Financial Officer Stacey Graves said was a possibility still on Thursday.
Computer devices are expected to be delivered to districts with approved plans from late September through November. Districts that already have computer devices for students will use their digital learning funds to pay for other eligible expenses the law allows.
DISTANCE LEARNING ASSISTANTS TO BE HIRED: During Thursday’s special meeting, board members approved the hiring of 78 “distance learning assistants,” whose role would be to aid teachers in dealing with questions from students and parents about learning online from home.
Uselton said between 35-40 percent of the district’s student population is learning from home. Thursday’s vote would place two designated assistants working in each K-12 school and one assistant each at the Magnolia School and the DeSoto County Alternative Center in Horn Lake.
“The assistants will help our teachers plan for distance learning, but it’s going to benefit all of our students,” Uselton said. “We are wanting to free up as much planning time as possible for our teachers. With the more time that will be available, this will help the traditional students as well as distance learning students. We’re trying to take as much of the busy work off of our teachers as we possibly can.”