October 26, 2021

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Unlimited Technology

Some East St. Louis parents want solutions to laptop issues

A concerned group of parents wants East St. Louis School District 189 to ensure that kids under quarantine have school-provided laptops that are reliable and work consistently.

Having working laptops is one of the issues that parents and guardians have raised during a series of virtual meetings that began shortly after the start of the fall semester.

“They still need those resources,” said Larita Rice-Barnes, a pastor and organizer in the East St. Louis community. “Most of the families don’t have computers or tablets or iPads or Internet, and so they still need to be able to do their work.”

On Wednesday, Rice-Barnes led a group of parents and family members in protest outside of the school district’s administration building that addressed a number of issues, including kids having working laptops during quarantine.

Parents said they are concerned about COVID-19 cases in the schools and want the district to implement a remote learning option.They are also asking the schools to fix issues with bus staffing shortages.

Jennifer Chike, whose first-grader attends Dr. Katie Harper-Wright Elementary School, didn’t attend Wednesday’s protest, but has been a part of the virtual meetings with other parents in the district.

She said her son was required to quarantine at home last week after being exposed to someone in his classroom who had COVID-19. But he missed three days of instruction because of technology issues with the Chromebook provided by the school.

Dr. Katie Harper-Wright Elementary School, as of Wednesday, had eight student COVID-19 cases, according to East Side Health District.

The school is among seven in the district that have multiple student COVID-19 cases. The rest are: James Avant Elementary School, seven; East St. Louis Senior High School, 31; Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary School, two; Mason-Clark Middle School, eight; Vivian Adams Early Childhood Learning Center, two and Wyvetter Younge School of Excellence, six.

“They didn’t work and so (I’m) trying to call the school, (but) no one’s picking up the phone,” Chike said about the technology that was provided. “I went up there to try to get it exchanged, and finally I got it exchanged, but they gave me a charger that didn’t match the computer. It was just real negligence. Like is no one paying attention?”

Jennifer Brumback, a chief academic officer for the district, said Chromebooks are given to students who are required to quarantine. Schools in the district receive Chromebooks from its technology department.

“In that process, if anybody has difficulty using a Chromebook, all they have to do is notify the school, the school would then in turn notify technology and we would turn around and provide support. Last year, we had a parent hotline that parents could call to get support with that, but because those same folks are the ones that are passing out the equipment, they’re not able to be in both places at one time. If there has been a delay, that’s been an anomaly. That’s not been something that normally happens.”

Sydney Stigge-Kaufman, director of communications for the school disitrict, said she knew about Wednesday’s protests and said the district is listening to parents’ concerns.

She said the district is actively working with East Side Health District to ensure the best learning options for students during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has created lots of emotions on multiple sides of things, and while there are some parents that are frustrated right now and have perceptions that it’s not a safe learning environment for our students, if we went into full remote learning, there would be frustrated parents on that side as well,” Stigge-Kaufman said.

Although Jennifer Chike wants the school district to fix the problems her and other families are facing, she understands the complexity of the situation.

“The pandemic only exposes the disparities that are already there, so it’s not anyone’s fault necessarily,” Chike said. “It’s really a bigger situation than we all realize. COVID just magnifies it all.”

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DeAsia Paige joined the Belleville News-Democrat as a Report for America corps member in 2020. She’s a community reporter covering East St. Louis and surrounding areas. DeAsia previously interned with VICE and The Detroit Free Press. She graduated from The University of Kansas in 2020.

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