38,000 laptops for Alabama schools were never shipped, not held up in customs

Officials learned Wednesday that the Chromebooks were not in fact held up in customs, as they had never been shipped.

Posted: Aug 5, 2020 9:45 PM
Updated: Aug 6, 2020 7:19 AM

Tens of thousands of students in Alabama may start the school year without the computers they need.

Last week, it was reported that more than 30,000 laptops, which had been ordered by state schools for this academic year, were held up in customs. It turns out, with the total now closer to 38,000, the devices never made it to America.

"What we have found now is that they were actually never shipped from China, that's where they were coming from. They never left,” Ryan Hollingsworth, executive director of the State Superintendents of Alabama, said Wednesday.

Hollingsworth told me about 20 school districts in Alabama are impacted. Now, with schools set to start across the country, he said it could take 6-8 weeks for vendors to find a new supplier -- time schools don't have.

"So our superintendents, the school districts, are looking for other suppliers here in the U.S. to purchase those from,” he explained. 

In North Alabama, Huntsville, Athens and Scottsboro City Schools confirmed supply chain disruptions delayed device shipments. Those districts told me they should still have enough computers for every student that needs one. Other districts may not be as lucky.

"We also have districts that have ordered Chromebooks, other devices that are not being delivered on time, as well,” Hollingsworth said. “When you combine that with the 38,000, you're looking at a large number of devices that school districts were anticipating to have in place for when students return."

Etowah County Schools' Superintendent Alan Cosby was the first to report issues with the shipment. When trying to figure out why his district’s 4,000 devices had not arrived, he was told by the vendor that they were stuck in customs.

"We immediately reached out to Senator Shelby's office, Senator Jones' office and actually I was able to speak personally with

Congressman Aderholt and all of them were very helpful in understanding the situation,” Cosby said.
After speaking with officials last week, Cosby decided to cancel that original order -- still thinking the Chromebooks were stuck in customs -- and place another order with a different vendor.

Even though that order won’t arrive before the start of the year, cboth traditional and virtual classes will begin on time.

According to the superintendent, the district already has about 5,000 Chromebooks -- which would cover all those attending school virtually, but Cosby says the plan is to provide one to every student.

"We just want to make sure that we're prepared -- in the event we go totally remote or something like that at a later time -- that we're prepared,” he said.

I reached out to numerous districts today to see if they were among those directly impacted. None of those I spoke to claimed to be, but Huntsville, Athens and Scottsboro all said they’re still waiting on shipments.

The School Superintendents of Alabama could not provide the full list of impacted districts Wednesday.

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