The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system is suspending the use of all Chromebooks after one started smoldering Wednesday at Lewisville Elementary School.
The Chromebook overheated about 9:45 a.m. while a third-grade student was using it during online instruction.
Brent Campbell, chief communications officer for WS/FCS, said that the student immediately reported that the Chromebook was hot and was getting too overheated and smoked a bit.
“The teacher immediately enacted the evacuation plans and the proper protocol, removed the students from the room and a staff member pulled the fire alarm,” Campbell said. “The building was evacuated per our district protocol.”
Campbell said that a fire extinguisher was used to stop the smoldering and the Lewisville Fire Department responded quickly.
“All the kids were able to exit the building safely and, thankfully, no one was injured,” Campbell said.
The Chromebook was a 2015 model that is used throughout the school system.
Campbell said the district’s 2015 Chromebooks were scheduled to be replaced at the end of the year.
“We rotate these in an out through usage or over time as they are used,” Campbell said. “We have roughly 20,000 of this particular model in use at this point. The district has asked principals to go ahead and remove all of those Chromebooks and take them out of use immediately so that we can access the situation a little bit further.”
In recent years, there have been some news reports of laptops and other devices catching fire or smoking in other school districts in the United States. In September 2017, for example, a school in East Bridgewater, Mass., recalled 1,169 Chromebooks.
Kevin Sherrill, chief technology officer for WS/FCS, said that the district will remove the 2015 Chromebook models and reassess all its newer Chromebook models before putting students back on the devices.
“We refresh these devices every five years,” Sherrill said. “These were in their fifth year to be refreshed this summer.”
The newer Chromebook models are expected to be evaluated by Monday.
Sherrill said that each of the 2015 Chromebooks is priced at $210 each.
He also said that losing 20,000 will affect instruction in the district because students use Chromebooks and other electronic devices for a lot of online programs, but he expects the school system to recover.
“We do have 8,000 scheduled to go into service this month,” Sherrill said. “That will help offset this a little bit. Then going into the next budget cycle in July, we’ll purchase roughly 8,000 to 10,000 more to build back up to the number we were at.”
Sherrill added that plastic melted on the smoldering Chromebook, which was on a desk.
“It was a battery-heated issue,” Sherrill said, saying he has never experienced an issue with a smoldering Chromebook before in all the years the district has had mobile devices.
He said that the affected device will be sent to the manufacturer that the district uses to have tests run on it to determine the cause of the incident.
Lewisville Fire Department Chief Darin Needham said the school evacuation was over in about three minutes from the time the fire department received a call about the situation.
He praised the staff at Lewisville Elementary, which has just under 600 students, saying, “It really highlights the importance of those pre-plans that we ask all of our citizens to do.”
Needham described what happened with the smoldering device as a “relatively low frequency but also low risk event,” saying that the incident was an electrical hazard, not a fire.