RPS Chromebooks missing?

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 9/30/2021, 6 p.m.
A major share of the estimated 20,000 Chromebooks that were distributed to Richmond students last year to help them connect ...
Jonathan Young

A major share of the estimated 20,000 Chromebooks that were distributed to Richmond students last year to help them connect to virtual classes have yet to be recovered or accounted for, the Free Press has been told.

Insiders told the Free Press that between 7,000 and 9,000 of the laptop computers were not turned in when the school year ended. As best as can be determined, little effort has been made to recover them, the sources said.

Richmond Public Schools Superinten- dent Jason Kamras and his administration did not respond to a request for comment on the potential $1.9 million to $2.5 million loss of equipment to the school system.

Mr. Kamras and his executive team last year pushed to get Chromebooks and tablets into the hands of students as the pandemic led school buildings to close.

By the start of school year in September 2020 when all classes were to be virtual, reports at the time indicated that 16,000 of the laptops were already in students’ hands, with RPS awaiting delivery of another 10,000 devices.

When those came in, students who received tablets as a temporary substitute received laptops.

Richmond paid $282.51 for each of the Chromebooks and spent additional money to load them with software and configure them to link with RPS computers so students could connect with virtual classes.

Overall, RPS spent between $400 and $500 per laptop to buy, configure and deliver them.

Students and their parents or guardians were required to sign a formal agreement with RPS to receive a Chromebook, a copy of which is posted online. The agreement put the onus on parents and students to maintain the equipment, bear the risk of loss from theft or damage and return the assigned laptop and charger “prior to the conclusion of the school year.”

However, the agreement that RPS posted online did not require students and parents to list an address where the device would be stored or to provide a phone number. No spaces are shown on the form to identify the school representative who provided the machine or list the machine’s serial number or other unique identifier.

It is not clear whether RPS created a database to ensure there is a record of who received which specific laptop to assist those tasked with recovery.

The Free Press obtained a copy of a final memo from Darin Simmons Jr., who resigned as RPS’ chief operating officer in June 2020 after two years in the post. The memo includes a warning to Mr. Kamras and his team that the distribution system for laptops was too lax in recording information that would allow the devices to be found later.

School Board Vice Chair Jonathan Young, 4th District, said rumors are flying about missing laptops, “but currently, we do not have any facts.”

He said he will request at the School Board’s next meeting on Monday, Oct. 4, that the board authorize an internal audit to determine if any laptops are unaccounted for and, if so, how many; whether appropriate procedures were in place when the devices were distributed; and what efforts are being made to recover any missing laptops.