HOUSTON — The pandemic pushed online learning into overdrive as school districts scrambled to connect students with technology. But months after the surge in connectivity, some are now experiencing a wave of unreturned devices.
A total of 27,680 computers, iPads and hot spots have gone missing at the 18 largest Houston-area districts, according to data obtained by KHOU 11 Investigates through open records requests.
The cost to replace them all? $10.1 million dollars.
“It is not a gifting program, we do need those devices back,” said Fort Bend ISD spokesperson Sherry Williams.
Fort Bend ISD has seen 5,070 devices go missing, 11% of what it checked out during the pandemic.
“Is that a number we wanted to see? Absolutely not,” Williams said. “But it's the reality, and we've been working on it diligently to get those devices back in the hands of the district."
Williams said the district has collected more than 2,000 devices since the beginning of the school year after e-mailing and texting parents. The district’s next step will be mailing official letters home, notifying parents they have to return the device or pay the cost of replacing it.
Records show Aldine ISD had 10,920 missing devices, the most of any large Houston-area district. The number represents 22% of what was handed out during the pandemic.
The district’s chief of staff acknowledged it’s not where they want to be, but district records show more than half of those computers were nearing the end of useful life.
“The good news is that between getting rid of those devices, because they were old, or kind of get them off the books, and then also because of philanthropic support, we were able to get new devices.”
Across Texas, the state’s Operation Connectivity helped to fund and acquire about 4.5 million new devices during the pandemic. With such a massive undertaking, project lead Gaby Rowe said some level of loss is not out of the norm.
“For any large entity that is handing out many, many, many devices, especially if they're doing that all in one fell swoop, the expected industry standard for loss is in the 10 to 12% range,” Rowe said.
This interactive map shows nearly all of the Greater Houston’s large school districts fall below that industry loss standard, with several missing only one percent or less.
But two districts, Conroe ISD and Spring ISD, don’t know how many devices are lost. They are still updating their inventories.
“There has to be a yearly annual plan for reassessing where a school district is in their long-range technology plan,” Rowe said.
“The last thing anybody wants is for us to go backward from the gains that we have made around connectivity and technology during COVID.”