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Palm Beach Schools Make Families Responsible for Laptops

With thousands of laptops loaned out to students for remote learning, the School District of Palm Beach County is making parents or caregivers responsible if the equipment is lost or damaged.

by Andrew Marra, Palm Beach Post, Fla. / April 8, 2021

(TNS) — With tens of thousands of school-owned laptops still being used at home by students across Palm Beach County, the school district is moving to hold parents financially responsible for damage to the devices.

A new policy to be considered by school board members Wednesday calls for parents and guardians in many cases to be “responsible for the cost of repair or replacement” for devices assigned to their children.

“If the technology assigned to a student is lost, stolen or damaged through negligence, vandalism, or failure to follow proper care guidelines, and is not covered in full by any warranty, then the parent/caregiver is responsible for the cost of repair or replacement,” the proposed policy states. 

Under the new guidelines, which would face a second school board vote next month before taking effect, school principals are required to “make reasonable collection efforts” when devices are not returned at the end of the school year.

While schools cannot force parents to pay to replace or repair a device, their students could face consequences under the new policy, including being banned from extracurricular activities or required to perform community service.

The district has bought tens of thousands of Google Chromebooks in the past year, most of them costing $200 to $300 each. Since the coronavirus pandemic closed down schools, they have distributed nearly 98,000 devices to students.

Some 80,000 district students continue to attend classes from home.

The proposed policy is modeled on the school district’s existing rules for textbooks and other instructional materials. State law requires public schools to seek financial compensation from families for damaged or lost school supplies.

Some board members have raised concerns about the implications of the new policy for financially strapped families. It’s one thing to pay to replace a missing book, they said, but another to cover the cost of a laptop computer.

“I worry a bit because it’s just like a textbook, but now we have a bigger obligation with a device,” board member Marcia Andrews said during a meeting last month. “We’ve got to be real careful with that.”

Board member Debra Robinson added that “we can’t put more barriers in children’s way if they are children.”

But board member Barbara McQuinn pointed out that school administrators need some leverage over families in order to ensure the return of the devices.

“If there’s wiggle room, we’re not going to get things back,” McQuinn said, “and we can’t afford to do that.”

Adam Miller, the school district’s director of educational technology, told board members that options like community service for students can help to ensure no financially needy families are required to pay up.

“Either they lose an activity or they can do some community service, so that’s an option for families,” he said.

(c)2021 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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