What Do You Do Now When a Student’s Device Breaks?

Some practical perspective from someone who fixes tens of thousands of them each year.

GUEST COLUMN by Matt McCormick

Having students take Chromebooks or iPads home is nothing new, but today’s situation is unprecedented. Students can’t return to school for an indefinite amount of time due to the coronavirus pandemic, so these devices, which are so essential to learning, are currently their only link to teachers and curriculum.

So now that schools are closed and kids are learning from home, what happens when a student’s device breaks? They can’t just walk down the hall and exchange it for a loaner and they can’t sit in the classroom and learn directly from the teacher. The device has become such an integral part of learning for the near future that schools must have a solution when a student’s device breaks.

“The device has become such an integral part of learning for the near future that schools must have a solution …”

Many schools have partnered with small device repair businesses.  The companies either send parts, so IT departments and after-school clubs can make the repairs on their own, or they send broken devices in bulk for professionals to fix.  Since in-house repairs aren’t a possibility with school closures and the regular procedure of trading in a broken device for a loaner isn’t available, the options seem limited. 

If your school still has staff working, the simplest option is setting up a contactless student device drop-off system. Then the device can either be fixed in-house or mailed out for repair. Here is a general flow for that system that helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus:

1. A student contacts the school letting them know they will be dropping off a broken device.

2. They are buzzed in when they arrive at the school.

3. A bin is placed by the front door for the student to leave their broken device.

4. A loaner device is waiting there with the student’s name on it.

5. The student leaves his/her broken device in the bin and grabs the loaner. They never get more than 10 feet inside the building and they don’t encounter anyone.

6. An IT staff member comes down with gloves and Clorox wipes, cleans the outside of the device (AND inside if it’s a laptop), and then takes it back to the office.


At this point, the IT staff can fix the device or mail it out to get fixed. 

But what if the IT staff is gone? Or if students aren’t allowed into the school under any circumstance?

While it may be tempting to let students fix devices on their own, it’s definitely not recommended. They will often choose to fix it themselves or use the cheapest option they can find. Both of these choices could leave the device in even worse shape. It’s also not recommended to let students mail the devices out themselves. Packaging is super important and people rarely have the requisite supplies available. It should also be clear that now is not the time to have students out buying shipping supplies or meeting up with the repair guy at the local mall.

You almost certainly want to coordinate with a reputable, 3rd party repair company that offers a full-service shipping solution.

Here’s the recommended process:

1. The student notifies the IT department.

2. An IT staff member contacts a small repair business.

3. The professional repair business mails a box to the student with all the necessary shipping supplies and a return label.

4. The student packs up their device with the provided supplies, puts on the return label, and ships it out.

5. The business receives the device, fixes it, and mails it directly back to the student.

Obviously, this requires parental approval to share a home address. If that’s not possible, the school could request a number of boxes shipped to an IT staff member. This staff member would then mail (or deliver) the boxes directly to students. In this latter case, it may even be possible for the staff member to include a loaner device so the student is up and running while the device is getting fixed.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution. But working with a reputable and flexible company to get student Chromebooks and iPads fixed has never been so important to keep all students learning.

Matt McCormick is the Founder and CEO of Jet City Device Repair, which has locations in Chicago and Seattle and repairs more than 22,000 devices a year. 


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