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There’s a lot of talk going on now about the “New Normal” and what will life be like after the quarantines end. Will there be an effective vaccine? And if so, when will it be widely available? What happens if we are unable to develop an effective vaccine? Or, even if we do, will K12 schooling be forever changed as we all reconsider what it means to be prepared for a the next pandemic?

Increasingly, I’m hearing about schools considering a variety of models, all of which have one thing in common. They assume that for part of the year, students will not be in classrooms, but instead at home. Whether it’s assuming that another quarantine takes place or that the quarantines don’t end, but a social distancing model that allows at least some of the students to be in the school some of the time. Regardless of what variations you are exploring, the common thread remains, some of the students are home some of the time.

This is a fundamental shift in how we “do school” and there are lots of challenges ahead as we consider how to best engage and support our learners in these types of environments. But I’m interested in a different aspect of all of this. Put aside for the moment the logistical challenges. I want to talk about the money. And not from the perspective that it’s expensive, because frankly, I don’t think it is.

What I’m really interested in is the reality that this spring, thousands of school districts across the United States deployed Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs. They may not have thought of it this way, but they did. School districts were not asking students to buy laptops and bring them to school, but by assuming the use of a family-purchased computer, the reality is the same. Given the emergency nature of this spring, I’m not faulting anyone. But, as we look forward, we have to look at this differently. We cannot build and develop plans around the assumption that we can continue to leverage family-owned computers. To do so steps over a line that we should not be stepping over. The fundamental principle of our system is the provision of a free, public, and universal education for all. We don’t get to pick and choose who pays and who does not. We don’t get to decide that the richest family in town can “afford” it. If the public school model is going to be built around accessing content and instruction via a computer and a home Internet connection, then we need to provide the devices just as we already do for the online LMS platforms, online content, printed content, Internet at the school, and even the school building itself.

People have argued about BYOD for many years, but I think the time has come to end the argument. Some have tried to argue that BYOD was cheaper. It’s not. In this new model, it is without question that the device is a prerequisite to access to public school. You cannot argue that access to a device is optional or that it isn’t integrally tied to the core educational mission of the school in this model. Some states have ruled in the courts that it is OK to charge for extra-curricular programs like after-school sports or clubs while others have ruled the opposite  I’ve yet to hear of a court ruling in favor of schools charging fees for access to educational content or instruction.

What does this mean? It means that from the top down, we need to be looking at how we fund and support our schools. It means that it is time to “Say Farewell to EdTech” as my friend Din Heiman so eloquently wrote almost a month ago. All of the adjectives of how we’ve used edtech: blended, hybrid, virtual, online, enhanced, take your pick, they are how we ALL do school now. We can also say farewell to the term 1:1. We don’t say 1:1 textbooks because we assume that everyone gets one. Some districts have already recognized this. Omaha Public Schools just announced that they will provide 1:1 iPads to all students in order to guarantee access to content and educational opportunity.

This is more than an equity issue. This is more than an education issue. Consider why we even have a public education system to begin with. Ideally. education starts before formal K12 education begins by parents at home reading to their children, and then parents hand off to us in K12 as the next leg in a relay race that ends with, hopefully, educated young adults who are prepared to become positive contributors to the economic and cultural health of our world. We cannot accept BYOD as an acceptable way to forge forward. BYOD has never, in my mind, been ethically proper nor budget friendly — and worse, it’s unconstitutional. Look at your state’s constitution. Somewhere in there, you’ll find a call out that is the underpinning of your state’s public education system, and in so many words, it says that school will be free. 

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