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Students wait weeks for DOE-bought iPads, then have trouble connecting

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Shanell Brunson had to jump through hoops to get remote-learning devices for her kids.

On March 16, the day after Mayor de Blasio announced buildings would close and classes go online, Brunson went to PS 119, which her son Navon, 9, and daughter Nariah, 5, attend, to pick up laptops. The school called the night before, saying it had 200 to loan out.

But Brunson didn’t get one. She arrived early to find a long line already. Somehow, her children’s names were not on the list. “We were denied,” she said. Only her sixth-grader, Nevaeh, 12, picked up a Chromebook from nearby Blueprint Middle School.

Brunson filled out an online request for two iPads for her kids. ”They said I had to wait until all priorities were met,” including people in shelters, public housing, high school students and children with disabilities.

It took a month, while her kids missed out on remote classes, to get both iPads.

The DOE spent $269 million to buy and equip 300,000 iPads that come with WiFi and Internet, but the devices are “not what it’s cracked up to be,” Brunson said.

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Shanell Brunson with her children, from left, Navon, Nariah and Nevaeh Fisher.
Shanell Brunson with her children, from left, Navon, Nariah and Nevaeh Fisher.J.C.Rice

The Internet connection is often lost, leaving her kids suddenly unable to log onto classes, turn in homework or keep appointments with teachers. Brunson said she alerts the teachers when that happens.

The mom added, “I’m not the only family having problems with these iPads.”

She calls it a blessing that a Bronx non-profit, Team First, gave her family two free Chromebooks for the kids use to complete their classwork, which they transfer from the iPads.

Team First has handed out 130 laptops to families since the DOE switched to remote instruction. Families can keep them; the DOE iPads are loaned and must eventually be returned.

“There have been many challenges,” said Tyrone Grant, Team First founder and CEO. “The DOE has made a significant attempt, but this pandemic has brought to light the digital divide, especially for families in the South Bronx.”

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