Alabama district says delivery of 4,000 laptops blocked by customs officials

Aug. 4, 2020
Customs officials held up delivery of the Etowah County school district's Chromebooks because of an electronics manufacturer accused of involvement in human rights violations in China.

Weeks before the school year is set to begin with increased emphasis on online instruction, more than 4,000 new laptop computers bound for a school district in Alabama are being held by customs because of human rights concerns.

The Associated Press reports that the Etowah County district ordered the Chromebook computers in June through a reseller called Trinity3 Technology, which helps supply schools with remote learning technology.

Schools Superintendent Alan Cosby says the laptops were supposed to be delivered this week, but the company has informed the district that the computers were being held by the U.S. Department of Commerce in customs because they involved an electronics manufacturer accused of involvement in human rights violations in China.

After Cosby informed other Alabama education leaders about the situation, Ryan Hollingsworth, director of the School Superintendents of Alabama, sent out a survey to the more than 100 other districts in the state and found that nearly 20 others were still awaiting more than 33,000 computers that had not yet been delivered.

Hollingsworth could not say with certainty whether any of those districts' computers were being held by U.S. agencies.

“I know that’s not the only district,” Hollingsworth says, “I’m 100% sure of that.”

After the Etowah County district was told it may not receive the laptops until October, it opted to cancel its order and buy laptops from another vendor that could deliver them by September, Cosby says.

Classes in Etowah County are scheduled to begin Aug. 17 for more than 8,000 students in the district; about 1,600 have opted to begin the year with distance learning.

Cosby says the district already has about 5,000 computers, but it would not be enough to cover all of its students if classes were to go entirely remote.

The customs case involves Hefei Bitland Information Technology Co. Ltd., one of 11 Chinese companies on whom the United States imposed trade sanctions last month as the Commerce Department cracked down on imports made with suspected forced labor, as well as companies implicated in other human rights abuses in China’s Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Scott Gill, President and CEO of Trinity3 Technology, says “a number of devices were held up that were scheduled for deliveries to schools across the country."

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