RSHS, NGA students to forgo laptops for first month of school – Richmond County Daily Journal

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Changes made to technology fee, laptops no longer go home
Matthew Sasser Lauren Monica
One of the defective laptops from last year that overheated and “exploded.”
Photo courtesy of Dr. Joe Ferrell
Changes made to technology fee, laptops no longer go home
HAMLET — Following a recall of hundreds of HP G1 laptops in Richmond County Schools last May, Richmond Senior High School and Ninth Grade Academy students will not begin the 2023-24 school year with laptops.
There is not a definitive timeline for when laptops will return to those students (Superintendent Dr. Joe Ferrell said hopefully by the end of September), but when they do, those devices will no longer go home with those students.
The Richmond County Board of Education Tuesday night adopted a standard $30 yearly technology fee for all K-12 students; previously, high school students paid that fee while K-8 students paid $10.
Technology director Mike Williams shared a report from Hewlett Packard that gave insight how over the spring months of 2023, that eight student-owned laptops overheated and “exploded,” where the battery would begin to swell and burst outside of the device. These devices had been handled by students for about five years.
Williams said that for two of the eight devices, it was determined by HP that the devices had most likely been repeatedly dropped, causing the battery to shift and create a “thermal event.”
An additional three of the defective laptops were not given a definitive conclusion for their failure. There was no obvious signs of physical damage or broken screws or casing, but a “thermal event” was still created.
Williams gathered a random sample of 20 HP laptops from elementary and middle schools and also sent those to HP. Of those devices, HP indicated that 30% of those needed to be replaced due to prolonged use. Wear and tear had caused the batteries to shift, mirroring what caused the thermal events in the high school laptops.
Williams said that RCS was presented with two options. They could buy all new HP G9s at a discounted, “good” price of $325 (all of the defective laptops were G1s) or they could replace all the batteries currently in the 2,300 G1 models that RCS owns.
“As of right now, we’re not going to have laptops at the beginning of the school year,” Williams said. “No matter which option we go with, it’s not possible.”
Williams said he has asked HP to send 1,700 new batteries, enough to replace laptop batteries for all students at RSHS and NGA. All laptops at the high school level were removed from circulation.
“We’re hoping to get about two more years use out of these laptops once the new batteries have been put in,” Williams said. “Once there in the classroom and not going home, we might actually get more than four years use out of them, because hopefully there won’t be as much damage.”
From the HP report, it was found that RCS laptops had irregular charging cycles. Some were also left in vehicles in freezing or hot temperatures, that could have also contributed to the wear and tear and integrity of the device.
About 500 new laptops have already been purchased for this year. Laptop carts have already been purchased for the high schools. Career and College Promise students in RCS will be given laptops that they can take home with them at the beginning of the year, similar to years past.
Dr. Ferrell said that if there is one “silver lining” from the incident, it’s that it will initiate yearly replacement cycle for school devices that was not in place before, and that it will be easier to find the necessary funding for 500 devices than 2,000.
“If we’re going to buy these and not have a replacement plan, I say not even buy them,” board member Cory Satterfield said.
Technology fee increased across the board
“Since students aren’t going to take laptops home anymore and they’re going to remain in the classroom, what we would like to change is we no longer charge kids for damage,” Williams said.
The prior policy was that when a student damaged a school device, they would be charged for it. Williams said that laptop repair prices have “gone through the roof”; to replace a single screen is $149.
Williams said with students no longer being responsible for a single device, that it would be impossible to track when a student damaged a single device, hence the universal increase.
The board agreed to raise the fee to $30 across the board for all students. Only board member Ronald Tillman opposed the motion, citing that the cost could mean the difference in a meal for some households.
“If we’re not charging them, I have to have a funding source from somewhere [for repairs],” Williams said, adding that over $100,000 in repairs simply came from the middle schools this year, with one school in particular responsible for a disproportionate amount.
“I will be honest, we have kids who pick them up at that middle school age…who are gonna pick them up and throw them or get mad at a teacher and pick up their laptop and slam it on the floor,” Williams said. “Middle school is where that occurs.”
Dr. Ferrell said that the laptop damage from this one middle school was so out of line from other schools that discussions have already been had with that school leadership.
“It was a critical conversation,” he said.
Board member Scotty Baldwin asked if there was any language regarding “willful intent” of damage to school property in the technology use agreement that would charge those who damage equipment, which other board members confirmed.
It was briefly discussed if the decision to raise the technology fee could be delayed until their next meeting, although it was determined that it would be best if the revised information could be provided to students and parents prior to the beginning of the school year at the end of the month.
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