CPS has lost 8% of schools’ ‘tech assets’ during COVID, tens of thousands of computers, even air purifiers, defibrillators

The police suspect that much of the property CPS has listed as missing actually was stolen by people with access to school buildings during the pandemic.

SHARE CPS has lost 8% of schools’ ‘tech assets’ during COVID, tens of thousands of computers, even air purifiers, defibrillators
An air purifier at a South Side elementary school. Air purifiers have been among the most-stolen items from the Chicago Public Schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

Air purifiers such as this one (right), seen at a South Side school, have been among the most-stolen items from the Chicago Public Schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Computers and other devices that amount toat least 8% of the Chicago Public Schools’ “technology assets” have been listed as “lost” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the missing items: tens of thousands of computers, iPads and other high-tech devices. They were lent to students during remote learning but weren’t returned.

The police suspect that much of the other property CPS listed as missing actually was stolen by people with access to school buildings during the pandemic.

It isn’t just computers. Air purifiers, defibrillators, a treadmill, lawn equipment and other property also vanished from schools since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Sun-Times reviewed police reports listing lost items for 15 public schools in Chicago. The cost of the missing items in those schools was estimated at more than $920,000.

And that doesn’t include hundreds of computers whose values weren’t even tallied in the reports.

The police have classified most of the missing property reports for those 15 schools as “suspended” or “closed non-criminal,” meaning it’s unlikely anyone will be held responsible for the thefts. No one has been arrested in connection with the missing items in those 15 schools, according to police sources.

The newspaper looked at schools all over the city — on the North Side, the West Side and the South Side. No matter where they are or how poor or wealthy a neighborhood, all had similar theft problems.

According to CPS, 8% of the district’s technology assets were reported lost during the 2020-2021 school year, compared with 3% of those assets during the 2018-2019 school year. Those percentages include technology that’s used for in-person and remote learning, according to school officials.

They say they haven’t tallied the total cost of lost or stolen items during the 2020-2021 school year.

About 390 of Chicago’s more than 650 public schools have reported items lost or stolen and have filed police reports, according to school officials. Another 83 schools were in the process of completing audits to determine what’s been lost or stolen.

When the school system shifted to having students learn remotely in the spring of 2020 near the beginning of the pandemic, it lent students iPads, MacBooks and Windows computer devices so they could do school work and attend virtual classes from home.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot waves to South Side preschool students learning virtually on Jan. 11, 2021.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot waves to South Side preschool students learning virtually on Jan. 11, 2021.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

CPS then spent about $165 million to buy Chromebook desktop computers so that every student from kindergarten through senior year in high school who needed a computer could have one.

Students borrowed 161,100 Chromebooks in September 2020. By June 2021, more than 210,000 of those devices had been given out.

Of them, nearly 40,000 Chromebooks have been reported lost —nearly a fifth of those that were lent.

“Schools have made repeated efforts to recover the lost devices from families without success,” according to a written statement from CPS officials in response to questions about the missing school property.

Also missing are more than 9,600 iPads, 114 televisions, 1,680 printers and 1,127 audiovisual projectors, among many other items.

Officials say CPS has bought new computer devices to replace the missing ones.

“Some items may have been lost early in the pandemic, and some of this inventory has already been replaced with the intention of keeping all schools at 1:1 student-to-devices,” according to CPS. “Each school now has sufficient devices to pass out to their student population should they need to flip to remote learning.”

Students returned to in-class learning in January.

Burnham Mathematics & Science Academy, 9928 S. Crandon Ave. It filed a police report Dec. 29 saying school officials couldn’t account for 187 Chromebooks, 32 iPads, 18 Dell laptops, 18 cellphone hot spots, five projectors, four printers, three streaming cameras, three interactive white boards and other equipment.

Burnham Mathematics & Science Academy, 9928 S. Crandon Ave., filed a police report Dec. 29 saying school officials couldn’t account for 187 Chromebooks, 32 iPads, 18 Dell laptops, 18 cellphone hot spots, five projectors, four printers, three streaming cameras, three interactive white boards and other equipment.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

In the Sun-Times’ review of police reports filed by schools, much of the lost or stolen property didn’t appear to be connected to remote learning. Projectors, copiers, carts, white boards, speakers, cameras and furniture went missing from the schools, according to the reports.

The technology coordinator at Burnham Mathematics & Science Academy, 9928 S. Crandon Ave., filed a police report Dec. 29 saying school officials couldn’t account for 187 Chromebooks, 32 iPads, 18 Dell laptops, 18 cellphone hot spots, five projectors, four printers, three streaming cameras, three interactive white boards and other equipment. The school uncovered the missing property during a two-month audit, according to the police report.

Burnham’s principal didn’t return a call seeking comment. Otis Armstrong, who’s on the local school council, says members weren’t told about the missing items.

Caldwell Math and Science Academy, 8546 S. Cregier Ave., was missing more than 85 computers, including 10 desktop computers, along with a variety of other equipment such as 11 air scrubbers, according to a police report filed in late December.

Asked to comment about the more than $90,000 in property reported missing from the school, Danielle Porch, the principal, said, “I’m not interested.”

Wildwood Elementary, 6900 N. Hiawatha Ave., reported more than $118,000 in missing property, including about 40 Chromebooks and 120 other computer devices, according to a police report filed at the end of last year.

A classroom at the Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School, which serves students at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center next door, reported more than 20 computer devices missing — and a dozen TVs.

A classroom at the Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School, which serves students at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center next door, reported more than 20 computer devices missing — and a dozen TVs.

Sun-Times file

Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School, which serves the adjacent juvenile detention center at 1100 S. Hamilton Ave., reported more than 20 computer devices missing —and a dozen TVs.

“These items are years old and do not have value to them,” an official at Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School was quoted as telling officers, according to a police report filed late last year.

The principals at Nancy B. Jefferson and Wildwood didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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