Frequently Asked Questions regarding the Lawrence school district’s iPad rollout

Joe Smysor, technology integration specialist for the Lawrence school district, shows off one of the new iPads that middle school students will be issued next school year.

The Lawrence school board approved a proposal on Monday to purchase 5,000 iPads for the district, and the devices will be issued to Lawrence teachers and students next school year.

The discussion regarding the purchase lasted nearly two hours and resulted in an uncommon mixed vote of 5-2 from the board. Rick Ingram and Kris Adair voted against the proposal, Ingram saying that laptops would be the more useful device for students and Adair expressing worry about limiting students to one device and operating system.

The lease-purchase agreement with Apple totals about $3.2 million and includes 5,000 iPads, 500 laptops, as well as other associated accessories and services. As part of the agreement, the district will pay an interest rate of about 1 percent over a four-year lease period.

The agreement will be paid for from a pool of funds in the capital improvement plan that is earmarked for technology leases. Once the lease is up, the district can buy the devices for $1 each, sell them or trade them in toward another lease-purchase agreement with Apple.

About half of the iPads will be for the middle school level, where every student will be issued the device next school year. The remaining iPads will be distributed throughout the district, many going to teachers and to support additional blended learning classrooms. The agreement with Apple includes 500 attachable keyboards, enough for 10 percent of the iPads.

Discussion among board members and district administrators proposing the plan centered mainly on whether iPads were a preferable device to laptops, but touched on several particulars as well. Conversation regarding the rollout included technical support, training, student responsibility and polices for use.

Three district staff involved in the rollout — Jerri Kemble, Joe Smysor and Jarod Merritt — answered some of the most frequently asked questions from teachers and parents. Kemble is assistant superintendent of educational programs and technology; Smysor is technology integration support specialist; and Merritt is network analyst.

What training will be available for teachers and parents?

Teachers will have both optional and required training on the device itself, its operating system and software. The district will also offer a training session for parents after the devices are distributed to students. The parent training will provide basic information about the device and tips for proper use and online safety. There will also be online video tutorials available for teachers and parents.

What technical support will be available?

The district will continue to use its help desk line — no additional staff will be added — that is staffed during business hours. Parents and staff can also call the AppleCare line, which is available 24/7. The district’s Wi-Fi network is currently being assessed and changes or updates to make it more reliable will be made over the summer.

What happens if the iPad is broken, lost or stolen?

All iPads will be issued to individual students, who will be able to take them home during the school year. Each iPad will have a rubber case with screen protector. Each iPad includes two repairs during the four-year lease.

The board policy advisory committee is in the process of drafting a recommendation regarding student and parent financial responsibility of the devices, which the district purchased for about $500 each. Once the recommendation is drafted, the board will discuss and vote on it in open session. The iPads also have tracking software installed, so they can likely be located if lost or stolen.

What filters and rules of use will be in place?

The district’s Wi-Fi network filter currently blocks inappropriate content such as explicit material, gambling or illicit substances while students are on district property. The district is in the process of establishing a cloud-based filter that would block that content no matter where the device is.

The iPads will have software that allows both teachers and parents to monitor student activity on the device. The board policy advisory committee is in the process of drafting a recommendation regarding how apps will be addressed. All apps rated 17+ will not be allowed, and they are considering creating a blacklist of other prohibited apps as well.

What are the advantages of the iPad?

The three top advantages of iPads over laptops that are touted by the district are iTunes U, educational apps and Apple Classroom. One of the functions of iTunes U is a platform that allows teachers to cache class materials, which are then automatically synched onto all students’ iPads in the class once they have an Internet connection. Cached and synched materials will be available for viewing even when a student doesn’t have Internet access.

Each iPad will come preloaded with certain educational apps, which will be determined through focus groups with teachers. If a teacher wants to install additional apps to their students’ iPads, those can be approved at the building or district level. The board policy advisory committee is currently discussing whether students will be allowed to use their own money to add apps to their device, but committee members initially said allowing that would be inequitable.

Apple Classroom is software that allows the teacher to monitor and control all devices in the classroom. A teacher can see what a student has on his or her screen in real time or see what apps or programs they have open. A teacher can push out digital books, websites or apps to individual students or all iPads at once and lock students’ iPads on certain content.