School Districts Are Facing Chromebook Shortages as Students Shift to Online Learning

School districts around the country say they may be waiting until the end of the year for their orders of Chromebooks

Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty

School districts are facing difficulty securing Chromebooks for students this year due to supply shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With students across the country starting the school year at home, laptops and computers have become necessities to participate in classes or do coursework. Chromebooks — which run on Google's Chrome operating system — have been a popular choice for students thanks to their low-price range. While high-end Chromebooks can cost hundreds of dollars, the most affordable models run just under $300.

But communities have been struck with Chromebook shortages over the last few weeks, due to high, nationwide demand for the machines and a slowdown in production.

According to the Associated Press, Lenovo, HP and Dell — three companies that make their own versions of Chromebooks — have said they will be short 5 million laptop units this year. The outlet said the shortages were made worse by sanctions placed on Chinese suppliers by the Trump administration. Many supply chains in China have also not fully recovered from coronavirus, Education Week added, leading to shortages in panels, displays and circuit boards.

"Keeping students learning is our top priority and we are treating every school and school district with urgency," an HP spokesperson tells PEOPLE. "The pandemic and shift to remote learning has increased the need for devices, and we are working hard to help schools get computers in the hands of students as quickly as possible."

Dell says wait times are improving despite "unprecedented laptop demand, shortages and compressed timelines across the industry."

"Dell is committed to solving this situation for our education customers so teachers and students can focus on learning," the company tells PEOPLE. "Our lead times are improving daily. And, our flexible supply chain is working to ensure we meet every customer order as quickly as possible. We appreciate the patience of parents, students and teachers who are navigating these unique and challenging circumstances."

When reached by PEOPLE, Google had no comment, while Lenovo did not immediately respond.

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Tom Baumgarten, superintendent of Morongo Unified School District in California, told the AP he tried multiple times to order thousands of Chromebooks for students, only to have the deliveries pushed back by months.

"This is going to be like asking an artist to paint a picture without paint. You can’t have a kid do distance learning without a computer," Baumgarten told the AP in August. "I’m very concerned that I’m not going to be able to get everyone a computer."

School districts in Massachusetts experienced similar difficulty when trying to obtain Chromebooks for students. Northampton Public Schools put in an order for the laptops in June and July, and had not received their delivery as of the beginning of September, MassLive reported.

After realizing their machines would not arrive for the beginning of the school year, the district, and others in the state, asked community members to donate or loan their unused laptops.

"Everybody is fighting for them," Mark Racine, chief technology officer for Boston Public Schools, said in an interview with Education Week. "We had some districts reach out to us and say, 'Can we buy some off of you?'"

A general shortage of device components is expected to last until at least May, the outlet reported.

"As a result, K-12 is largely going to struggle to fulfill their needs through much of the second quarter of the year," senior research analyst Lauren Guenveur said. "[But] these school district orders are going to keep coming."

Even school districts that were proactive in ordering laptops at the beginning of the pandemic are still awaiting their orders.

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"When we closed down on March 12, we were the first school district to close down," Doug Perry of Murray School District in Utah told KUTV, adding that every student in the area already had a Chromebook by then.

"We were anticipating that we would need some to replace some broken ones, so we placed that order in June, but as of yet, it hasn’t come yet," Perry added. "We’re expecting it — they told us today — in November."

According to the AP, the sanctions against China that the Trump administration issued in July focused on companies they believed committed human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims. The administration — which did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment — placed sanctions on 11 companies, including one that assembles various Lenovo laptops. The company told the AP that the move has added additional time to their already extended delivery schedules.

School districts have since reached out to the White House in hopes the sanctions can be resolved, though it places them in a tough, and awkward, position.

"It's a tough one because I’m not condoning child slave labor for computers, but can we not hurt more children in the process?" North Dakota's Williston Public Schools IT director Matt Bartenhagen told the outlet. "They were supposed to be delivered in July. Then August. Then late August. The current shipping estimate is ‘hopefully' by the end of the year."

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