News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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August 15, 2013

OLD SCHOOL: North Central students return to school and hit the books week after iPads stolen

Loss covered by insurance; new devices already ordered

FARMERSBURG — Instead of iPads, Sullivan County’s North Central High School students used paper, pencils and textbooks on the first day of school Wednesday.

Last week, someone stole about 400 iPads from the school, technology that should have gone to students at both North Central and Union high schools. The stolen items were valued at more than $200,000.

The first day back to school wasn’t exactly what everyone had anticipated, but staff and students made it work.

“We thought it was going to be weird going from books to technology,” said North Central senior Logan Berg. “Now it’s weird going from technology to books.”

Last year, the district initiated the new program in which every high school student in grades 9 through 12 received an iPad as part of the move toward a digital curriculum. Students rent them similar to textbook rentals.

North Central sophomore Emily Morris also was disappointed at having to go back to low-tech learning tools. “It’s crazy that someone would do that to this school. We were trying to move up in the world, and they just took us back down to where we were at,” she said.

The good news is that the iPads were covered by the school district’s insurance, and the district has ordered about 400 new ones. The iPads and related technology should arrive in seven to 10 days, and technology staff will then need another three to four days to load software and apps, said Principal Candice Fritz.

“The teachers have been outstanding as far as being adaptable to the circumstances,” Fritz said. “Our kids are also following suit.”

The school had saved its textbooks, so “we’ve pulled those out and dusted them off,” she said. She believes there will be enough textbooks, and it’s just for a short period of time.

“We’ll make do,” she said.

Social studies teacher Bryan Strain, who also works with the technology through the Student Service Center, said of the theft, “It’s sad people would do something like that.” It’s even worse because it involved a school, he said.

“We’re trying to get the kids prepared for life. These kind of things set us back,” Strain said. Teachers have been training on the technology this summer to prepare for the new school year.

Fortunately, the school had textbooks as part of a backup plan. “In this case, we had to implement the backup plan,” he said.

It’s probably toughest on the students, Strain said. “They are digital natives; this [technology] is second-nature to them,” he said. Going back to textbooks “is kind of a letdown. They are disappointed.”

Mark Baker, Northeast Sullivan schools superintendent, said he’s received email from all across the country in response to the theft of iPads, with people expressing support.

 A group out of Chicago offered to provide 400 iPad cases. “I’ve heard from people I knew in college that I haven’t seen in 25 years,” he said.

When Apple was contacted about the break-in and theft, the company set aside 400 iPads in a China warehouse “waiting to get the green light,” Baker said.

With the district now knowing insurance will cover replacement costs, the order was placed Wednesday. “Everyone has been great” and they’ve worked quickly to get iPads back in students’ hands, he said. Most of those stolen were for students.

Meanwhile, students such as sophomore Gavin Stanifer are just going to have to tough it out for a few weeks. He much prefers working online and using an iPad.

Reacting to the theft, Stanifer said, “It’s crazy. You wouldn’t think it would happen. Especially a little school like this.”

The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department, with assistance from Indiana State Police, continues to investigate the theft and is asking the public for leads, said David Haddix, chief deputy with the sheriff’s department.

Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s department at 812-268-4308 or State Police at 765-653-4114, he said.

He noted that a renovation project was under way this summer and “a lot of additional people were inside the school who normally wouldn’t be there.”

Investigators have been in contact with Apple, which is assisting in efforts to find the missing iPads, Haddix said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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