Stone County students will be using Chromebooks to complete schoolwork sooner than expected.

At a special called meeting on Aug. 25, the Stone County School Board approved the application to request funds for 2,511 Chromebooks for students and 50 laptops for teachers.

“These devices will service both traditional and virtual students,” Superintendent Inita Owen said. “In the event that we are forced to go totally virtual, these devices will go home with students.”

The cost of the equipment will be more than $1 million. The district is applying for funds through the Equity in Distance Learning Act though the Mississippi Department of Education.

The Mississippi Legislature passed the ELDA over the summer, which allocates up to $150 million to school districts across the state.

“In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and having unprecedented federal funding, the purpose of the Equity in Distance Learning Act is to provide students and teachers with the technology and professional development necessary to ensure that all have access to high-quality distance learning aligned to the state’s college- and career-ready standards,” according to a July 24 press release from MDE.

The application for EDLA was due to MDE by Tuesday.

“This grant was established to ensure Equity in Distance Learning for all students in Mississippi since there is a huge disparity between school districts' ability to purchase devices for all students,” Owen said.

The Stone County School District is applying for $717,736 to help cover the costs of new Chromebooks. The remaining $302,267 will be funded through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund or with other district and federal funds available.

ESSER funds are reimbursable funds for education through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Owen said Chromebooks were originally expected as late as mid-February due to backorders.

She said MDE now expects the devices will be in hand by Nov. 20.

Owen said the district will also apply for funds from the Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Act to help with internet access in Stone County.

The MPRBAA is also allocated through MDE from CARES act funds. The law aims to increase internet service in rural areas so all students can have adequate access to use their Chromebook.

“Connectivity in our community will be much harder to achieve for all,” Owen said. “We are working diligently to accomplish this goal.”

The board also:

• Approved contracts for the scholar with Horizon Software, Gulf Coast Mental Health, and Memorial Hospital at Stone County

• Approved updated district policy for technology use.

• Adopted a resolution to accept funds for a new career technical education building from the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund Grant Fund.

• The board went into executive session to discuss the pending lease application with Adranos, Inc. No decision was made.

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