Some of the state's largest school districts are grappling with delays getting laptops essential for distance learning amid a huge national demand for the devices.

Officials of the Jefferson Parish school district, the largest in the state, bought 32,075 laptops called Chromebooks last spring and have gotten 15,158.

"So many school systems jumped in that technology supply chain in the spring," said state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley, who was Jefferson Parish school system superintendent when the order was made.

"Those manufacturers and their suppliers, I am assuming they are just overwhelmed by the quantity of orders they received," Brumley said. "We have systems that placed orders in the spring and those devices aren't in. It is certainly not neglect on those school systems because they placed those orders in March and April."

The backups are especially pressing because most school districts are starting the 2020-21 school year with a combination of in-person and distance learning because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lots of schools nationwide are doing the same, which means demand for laptops is off the charts.

"The backup is unbelievable," said Doris Voitier, the superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish school district , who is starting her 50th year in education.

The lack of laptops is part of Louisiana's digital divide, where 1 of 4 students lack the internet access they need for distance learning.

About 77% of students have a school-issued computer or tablet, according to a study by the state Department of Education released last month.

Classrooms closed in mid-March during the early stages of the pandemic, which means distance learning is even more crucial .

Officials in the St. Tammany Parish school system ordered 35,000 Chromebooks in March, part of a five-year plan that stemmed from a bond initiative.

Meredith Mendez, director of communications, said the St. Tammany has gotten a "substantial number" of the 35,000 ordered.

Exactly how many are delayed is unclear. Devices have been allocated to students in all eight high schools, with junior high students next.

Students in grades sixth to 12th have priority for the Chromebooks because the district will be using a hybrid schedule when classes resume Sept. 14, Mendez said.

Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said educators statewide are experiencing delays, including software and other accessories needed to run the computers.

"It is not your normal market," he said.

Faulk noted that the laptops are essential for students, especially older ones whose school year is starting with virtual classes only.

"It is incumbent on the school system to provide it because that is the type of education they are offering," he said. "What good is it to say we are doing virtual learning if you don't have the device?"

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system, the second largest in the state, placed a major order for Chromebooks in April and distributed them to all students from prekindergarten through 12th grade before classes began, according to Taylor Gast, director of communications and public relations for the district.

But orders in July by individual departments in the district are not expected until late October, and mid-November for any additional requests, Gast said.

In the Lafayette Parish school district, delays getting Chromebooks for students in kindergarten, first and second grades led officials to order iPads instead, said Allison Dickerson, public information officer.

In one case in Jefferson Parish a parental initiative ensured students would have laptops.

Crystal Bolner, whose son is a fourth grader at J.C. Ellis Elementary in Metairie, said in an email her school began stocking up on laptops two years ago with dollars raised by parents in fall and spring festivals.

While officials in the Jefferson Parish school system are waiting for about 17,000 Chromebooks, the more than 15,000 they have received boosted the inventory to 37,569, said Vicki Bristol, director of communications for the district.

Some of the new ones were needed to replace outdated models and for the district to have backups.

A total of 16,610 laptops have been distributed, Bristol said.

The St. Bernard school district has enough laptops for all 7,800 students after an order earlier this year for about 1,500 devices, Voitier said.

"We were very lucky in that in the spring at the very beginning (of the pandemic), we made sure we had enough to be one on one," she said, a reference to each student having a device.

Scott Devillier, superintendent of the top-rated Zachary school district, said officials there ordered about 4,000 laptops in April and got them at the end of June and mid-July.

Devilier said he understands that additional orders will take 12-15 weeks to get the devices.

"I have talked to other districts and they say they are having some issues," he said.

Zachary has enough for all of its 5,600 students, with 4,100 issued by the district.

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Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.