Thousands of Alabama school-bound laptops held up in U.S. Customs due to human rights sanctions
Etowah County, Ala. – A potential customs dispute over laptops may throw a wrench in some school system’s ability to teach virtually this fall. Etowah County Schools Superintendent Alan Cosby told the Associated Press that about 4,000 Chromebooks made by Lenovo were being held by custom officials over alleged human rights abuses in China.
The company involved with components of the Lenovo Chromebooks, Hefei Bitland Information, is one of 11 Chinese companies the U.S. imposed trade sanctions on last month due to suspected forced labor.
Adding to the confusion, the U.S. Department of Commerce said yesterday that it had not seized any laptops. Though stating the sanctions “do not apply to the importation of Chromebooks from China…we should all agree that American school children should not be using computers from China that were produced from forced labor.”
Trinity3 Technology, the company the school system partnered with to purchase the laptops, acknowledged that devices for schools across the country were being held up. After a failed attempt to resolve the delay, Cosby said the school system canceled the order and said his district would be go through another vendor to secure the laptops. Even so, the new order of laptops may not be delivered until September, likely placing some families in a dilemma of sending their children to school and exposing them to the coronavirus, or attempting distance-learning with little or none of required technology.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton met with representatives from Apple, Google, and Microsoft along with State Superintendent Eric Mackey in June on the feasibility of mass device purchases for Alabama’s K-12 students. Both Senators Marsh and Singleton advocated for releasing money earlier in the summer to give school systems enough time to properly prepare. At the time, Governor Ivey appeared cool to the idea of releasing tens of millions of dollars in federal funding to allow school systems across the state to begin making the necessary purchases for virtual learning. In late July, the Governor's office moved forward with allocating $100 million under the CARES Act to facilitate purchases of the necessary equipment and technology for distance learning; however, the late timeline likely is likely a factor in many school systems' decision to delay the beginning of the school year in order to stand up their virtual curriculums and programing.