As some students return to classrooms, the Scottsdale Unified School District will spend nearly $1 million to purchase cameras to stream lessons for students at home.
The Governing Board last month approved the purchase of 800 cameras at a cost of no more than $908,000.
The approval came just days before the first elementary students returned to classrooms.
According to a district survey, between 60 to 90 percent of families with elementary students in distance learning opted to send their students back to class.
But that still left some students at home in the enhanced distance learning model.
Some of those students will continue to receive instruction from a teacher dedicated specifically to that model but the cameras will give other teachers in the district the option to livestream classes for them while simultaneously teaching other students in the classroom, said Debi Spaulding, the district’s director of technology.
The district already ordered 95 cameras at a cost of $85,810 and requested board approval to purchase and install an additional 705 cameras for $821,598.
The district will pay for the purchase by reallocating a portion of about $2 million in its budget that was allocated towards upgrading classroom technology.
SUSD acting Chief Financial Officer Shannon Crosier said the $2 million in federal CARES Act funds the district received was already allocated but that there may be the opportunity to reimburse the schools budget using other grants in the future.
“But for now, to get it going, let’s put it through capital (budget) and then see where we land as we progress through the year,” she said.
Spaulding recommended purchasing the equipment en masse due to difficulty sourcing supplies that are in high demand.
“Any type of technology purchase is very difficult to make at this time… I ordered some tripods over a month ago and we still haven’t received them,” Spaulding said.
“We found a source of 800 of these cameras and so that was why we wanted to buy them all upfront,” she added. “It will enable us so that if we don’t use them all we’ll have stock for replacement also.”
The district is also seeing high demand for cameras.
“So far we have had 111 requests for cameras. We will prioritize by starting with the kindergarten, first and second grades for our installs,” Spaulding said.
With 1,500 classrooms but only 800 cameras, the district has allowed teachers to decide if they want their individual class sessions to be recorded.
“Giving them a choice provides different modes of delivery,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kim Guerin said.
On Sept. 29, district administration indicated it will take some time to roll out the cameras, though, due to limited bandwidth at some schools.
Guerin said the district’s IT staff is in the process of expanding bandwidth to accommodate the cameras.
Board member Jann-Michael Greenburg questioned privacy and legal implications of filming live classes and potentially capturing minors on camera.
But Spaulding said the cameras would be positioned to avoid recording students in the room.
“One thing about the cameras that are going to be in the classrooms, the kids in the classrooms would not be on those cameras,” Spaulding said. “The camera is in the ceiling, so it’s going over their heads, straight to where the teacher would be located.”
Guerin also explained how students remaining in enhanced distance learning will access lessons recorded with the new cameras.
She said students at home may not interact directly with their teacher during the lesson but could receive individualized instruction or help later.
“A teacher doesn’t necessarily need to interact,” Guerin said. “We can live stream or record the lesson but then have office hours later to give individualized attention to the students at home.”
Spaulding also noted the cameras are outfitted with enhanced audio allowing teachers to speak clearly even when wearing a mask.
“We don’t want the students at home not feeling heard and not having engagement with their teachers...Another way to manage that is they get to watch the teacher teach and then later they have time with the other students that are at home learning on EDL extend and can ask questions and engage and do some cooperative activities that the kids in person got to do, just in a different way,” Guerin added.