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District to purchase webcams, microphones for distance learning

Washington Educational Services Building
The Washington Educational Services Building. Brainerd Dispatch file photo
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All middle and high school Brainerd Public Schools classrooms will have camera and microphone systems installed for the upcoming school year to assist with hybrid learning.

School board members voted on the technology upgrades after approving a hybrid learning plan to begin the 2020-21 school year during their meeting Monday, Aug.10.

“It has been identified that to do any of the synchronous instruction … teachers need access to this equipment,” Director of Technology Sarah Porisch told the board.

Students in grades 6-12 will be split up into two groups in the fall, with each group attending classes in person two days a week and working remotely three days a week. These students will have synchronous schedules, meaning those working from home will have schedules synchronized with those in the classroom. So with the new technology — which includes a Logitech webcam mounted on the wall and a microphone placed in the classroom — distance learners will be in their classrooms virtually, along with those attending in person.

But distance learning isn’t the only time these systems can be used, Superintendent Laine Larson noted.

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“Let’s say a kid is home because they’re sick or something like that, you can have it going, and they can actually participate in the class from home,” Larson said. “And so they’re going to be really dandy, particularly in the high school and middle school with our distance learning three days a week.”

Under state guidelines, all students have the option to choose distance learning this year as well.

“It’s kind of exciting how lots of different things are coming out of this equipment and this new learning that we’re doing,” Porisch said.

The board agreed to use up to $60,000 of funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act for the equipment. That amounts to less than $200 a classroom, Porisch said, as the district will also purchase a couple sets for elementary teachers to check out and will pilot some higher quality equipment as well.

“We’re also going to have some higher level systems, if you will, for those classrooms that need that additional support as far as picking up the sound, or maybe there’s a reason that the camera has to follow the teacher a lot more or see a lot more of the classroom or something like that,” Porisch said. “We are piloting some systems, but they run up to about $2,000 a classroom.”

District devices

Also in technology matters, board members approved an updated districtwide device policy, now that all students will have devices this year.

Middle and high school students all have personal devices they are able to take home every day, while elementary students each have their own device to use in the classroom. All distance learning students will have their own devices.

“Now that we’re K-12 1:1, what we did is we developed a districtwide policy that’s kind of the umbrella that covers the breakage, no stickers on devices, things like that, that are kind of the umbrella for all devices,” Porisch said.

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Brainerd High School and Forestview Middle School, she added, will each create their own policies on how to handle issues like students not bringing their devices to class charged.

The biggest update in the districtwide police, Porisch said, is families will not have to pay for insurance.

“There’s a couple layers to that,” she said. “Mainly it’s because of the distance learning and the need for the devices. As soon as we transfer into us requiring families to have devices, we won’t charge that insurance. So it will be a pay as you go.”

Board member Charles Black Lance asked about the highest cost families would be on the hook for in terms of device repairs. A full replacement for the district’s newest devices, Porisch said, is $326. The district needed maybe three complete replacements last year during the first year of 1:1 technology at the high school, she estimated.

The most popular fix needed, she said, was a screen replacement, which costs $169.99.

Students only pay for the cost of parts, as the high school’s Tech Warriors program engages students interested in technology to assist with repairs.

Porisch said the district will work with families on restitution or other options to pay off the cost of repairs.

Students in grades 10-12 who already purchased insurance last year will maintain their insurance and will not be charged for the first breakage.

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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