After criticism, NC superintendent says teachers must fill out applications for iPads

Posted October 8, 2019 5:24 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2019 6:05 p.m. EDT

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

— When North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson announced last week that teachers could email him if they wanted iPads for their classrooms, 140 educators took him up on the offer and wrote asking for the devices, according to his office. Now, Johnson has added one more step – teachers wanting iPads must fill out an application explaining why they want the devices and how they would measure the impact on their students.

The change comes after State Board of Education members criticized Johnson last week for handing out iPads to schools that asked for them instead of creating an equitable, organized system for the requests.

Johnson, who recently gave 200 iPads to a Hyde County school and 100 iPads to a Pitt County school, scolded the board for not celebrating his efforts to get more resources into classrooms. He credited his "fiscal conservative nature" for saving enough money in his superintendent's budget to buy 800 iPads for schools this summer.

In an email to educators Friday, Johnson wrote that he received a few "mean-spirited" emails from teachers about the iPads but that most "showed genuine interest."

"We are going to try to fill as many requests as we can with a focus on helping those who have the highest needs for iPads," Johnson wrote, adding that requests must be submitted to him by Oct. 12.

Last month, Johnson announced he was sending 200 iPads to Ocracoke School, where flooding from Hurricane Dorian forced 185 students out of their building. Last week, he surprised Junius H. Rose High School in Greenville with 100 iPads after math teacher Tracey Moore requested some for her class.

A tense discussion ensued last week after State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis asked Johnson how he selected the schools, and Johnson said it was because they contacted him and asked for iPads.

"How do we respond when the question is, 'Well, what criteria is used to make these awards and how does my school get into the queue to be considered for these awards?'" Davis asked.

"They can email me," Johnson said.

"That's the criteria?" Davis said.

The exchange prompted concerns from board Vice Chairman Alan Duncan who said there should be "some organized system" created by the state board and superintendent's office to determine which schools get the devices instead of relying solely on requests. That way, "we avoid the controversies that are inevitable as to how one got [iPads] and another didn’t," Duncan said.

Johnson pushed back and said if the board got involved in selecting schools it would slow the process and create "bureaucratic paperwork checklists."

Last year, Johnson bought 24,000 iPads for North Carolina's K-3 teachers with money from the state's Read to Achieve fund. He faced criticism after 2,400 of the devices sat in a state warehouse for a year, which he blamed on delays due to Hurricane Florence. Johnson's spokesman told WRAL News that all of the iPads have been distributed, but he has not provided details about which schools received them.

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