The New Computer Deal: Higher Fees and Expulsion

New Splash Screen

So it seems that the superintendent has decided to change the computer deal in the middle of the year. But of course he hasn’t decided to share it with any, you know, legally responsible adult.

Instead, he’s decided to just threaten children and have third graders walking around wondering what they have done wrong.

If you remember, back in the summer there was much confusion over the agreement that parents were being ordered to sign for their children to take home the computer that they were being forced to use. There was no getting around this agreement. When we asked if we could use our own computer instead of the school’s computer, we were told:

HCS cannot support other computers. Feel free to buy your own computer; however, we have to use the HCS imaged computers in our schools. They are set up to be used in our schools – they have to go through our servers/filters. We won’t maintain any computers besides HCS devices.

In other words, if you have a child in Huntsville City Schools, you have no choice. You must pay a “$35 User Fee” and you must use the school’s computer.

Remember how the agreement that we were asked to sign ended up being different from the one that was posted on the website? The original one was dated, July 23, 2012 and had an introductory paragraph that read:

A computer power cord and carrying case will be issued to students to support the 1:1 Technology Initiative being implemented in Huntsville City Schools. The student curriculum will be accessible digitally for all core subject areas, on the computer. The computer should be kept away from food and drinks and stored in its carrying case when not in use. Computer Lab Technicians will assist with hardware and software troubleshooting and support. There will be a $35.00 user fee to help cover repairs and or replacements. The school district will help make special accommodations for free and reduced lunch students.

However once parents began picking up the devices, they noticed that the agreement they were being asked to sign had changed to this:

In support of the 1:1 Digital Learning Initiative being implemented in Huntsville City Schools, students will receive a computer, power cord and carrying case. The student curriculum will be accessible digitally for all core subject areas, on the computer. Parents/guardians and students must review and sign this contract.  Parents unwilling to sign the contract must assume responsibility for student’s being able to gain access to the digital curriculum. Computer Lab Technicians will assist with hardware and software troubleshooting and support. There will be a $35.00 user fee to help cover repairs. The school district will provide accommodations for free and reduced lunch students and any student attending Title I Schools. The cost to replace the Netbook computer for Grades 3 is $250. The cost to replace the laptop for Grades 4-12 is $600.

From the beginning the district was either constantly changing the agreement or refusing to be upfront with parents about the agreement they were entering into.

But that was the agreement that we signed, and that was the agreement that is applicable for the 2012-2013 school year.

Except, now, as always, Dr. Wardynski has decided to change the agreement, again.

Beginning last week when students turned on their computers, they were suddenly greeted with a new desktop background as seen above. Included on that background is the following statement:

This device is the property of Huntsville City School Board of Education, a political subdivision of the Alabama State Department of Education. It has been provided to you, as a student of the Huntsville City School District, in order to enhance your educational achievement through utilization of District-approved digital curriculum. Intentional misuse of this device (including destruction, defacement, installation of unauthorized software, or download of unauthorized programs) may result in disciplinary action including expulsion and a fine of up to $750.00) [sic]

That’s right. The cost of replacing your child’s laptop or netbook (this screen shot also appears on the netbook) has jumped from either $250/$600 to $750. And in addition to that, actions that were listed as Class II violations (suspension) have now, automatically, been raised to a Class III violation (expulsion).

Does anyone else have the feeling that this wonderful, amazing 1:1 Digital Initiative just keeps getting worse all the time? Remember when the superintendent constantly underestimated the cost of the Digital Curriculum by four million dollars? Remember when Wardynski claimed that everyone would have wireless access to the curriculum, even though the network regularly and consistently crashed during the first half of the school year? Remember when Wardynski called a parent’s suggestion that this conversion should be handled in a more judicious fashion, “ludicrous” and “absurd?”

Well, it seems that the superintendent has decided to change the ground rules yet again.

Honestly, is there any promise, any agreement, that this man won’t break? I feel like Lando making a deal with Darth Vader and hearing Vader say, “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”

__________

There’s a board meeting Thursday night, February 21st at 5:30pm at the Merts Building. While most of the meeting will be broadcast, the citizens’ comments will not. If you want to hear what your fellow citizens have to say to the board, you’ll have to join us in person for the meeting. Hope to see you there. 

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

14 Comments

  1. Well, the district can display whatever they want on the desktop of these computers, but none of it is legally binding upon the users — minors — even if they had consented to this condition from the outset. Nor, absent my consent to a change in the terms of the agreement that I signed, is this binding upon me as the legally-responsible parent/guardian.

    I’d suggest that it is merely another effort to intimidate the users who by now know what I suspected from the get-go: the district is absolutely powerless to ensure that these students are accessing only appropriate sites. My older child described how the reset of this particular display interrupted one of his friends who was playing HALO on the school laptop *AT* school *DURING* the school day. Ah, the sweet smell of “student engagement….”

    When I was required to sign the computer agreement in the fall, I did so reluctantly and only because I feel strongly that its terms are totally unenforceable. By my reading, this is what is called a contract of adhesion: students cannot pursue their education without THESE computers, and they cannot have access to THESE computers without my signature on THIS document. Bargaining power? No. Opportunity to modify the terms? No. Alternative to consent? None. Moreover, the $35 fee we (well, at least some of us) were required to pay was supposed to offset the cost of repairs. How then can I be charged again if it becomes necessary to repair the device? The document was poorly drafted, contradictory on its face, and it purports to impose obligations upon me that the district has no legal authority to impose.

    If HCS argues that this fee is intends to cover repairs for families from whom they cannot hope to extract additional repair monies….well, that starts to feel a lot like a tax. And I can’t find any authority for HCS to levy a tax. So if my kids’ computer needs fixed for something other than deliberate or negligent damage, and you think you can bill me for that repair, I have two words for the district: SUE ME. Because I’ll tell you this much, I’m prepared to go to the mat to avoid paying one thin dime more for this “resource,” the utility of which is far short of what the district promised.

    1. I agree this isn’t legally binding. I just wanted to show how, yet again, this district’s leadership is attempting to alter the playing field midway through the game, or whenever it suits them.

      And while we know this is meaningless on a legal level, many others won’t.

      But you’re right. I should have been clearer about that. 🙂

  2. Can’t see I didn’t see this coming. No wonder citizens comments are no longer televised. Parents might hear the truth instead of propaganda. Dr. Dawson must be turning over in his grave. God, I wish we had some leadership.

  3. I distinctly remember informing Captain Wardynski that there are strong rumors that students are able to access many websites they shouldn’t be looking at in class. His reply? “You shouldn’t be listening to rumors. I assure you we have filters in place to block illegal websites.” The man who professes to be both an engineer and an educator seemed very self assured that his technological savvy far outpaced that of the students. Sorry Captain, but when I have students AND teachers telling me that they can indeed access illegal sites, I believe you’ve been trumped.

  4. I’ve had several university students tell me that there are so many damaged computers in some schools (and it takes at minimum a month to get it back) that many teachers don’t even bother with them. My teacher friends say the kids know exactly how to go around the parental controls and access ANYthing they want whenever they want. I completely expected both these issues. I’m just blown away that people trust W do implicitly that they appear to loose all common sense. How could these not be issues. We’ve put Pandora’s box into the hands of children.

  5. I personally met with Wardynski LAST SPRING and told him filtering would be a major issue. He blew me off, and here we are. So yes, of course kids are accessing websites they aren’t supposed to, including at school.

    As one highly-reputable teacher at Grissom said the other night: “Sure, I know kids are playing games and doing whatever on their computers during class. But I’m not the one who made the decision to give them a Nintendo DS to do their schoolwork on. I have a choice: I can either monitor the laptops or teach. So I choose to teach.”

    Meanwhile, when your 13-year-old becomes a porn addict, Dr. W. doesn’t want to hear about it. You should’ve just parented better somehow.

  6. Please read this laptop disclaimer again. You are mistaken that the replacement cost has changed, thus altering the agreement. The $750 fine is a fine and appears to be in addition to repair/replacement costs (so total can go up to $1350). The disciplinary policies dictate what the disciplinary action is. My kids have been told that 1st offense includes disciplinary referral, 2nd offense is Class II “defiance” that requires “in house,” and 3rd offense means you lose the computer and have additional disciplinary consequences – that’s when it can become Class III and get them expelled. They were told that principals still have a choice in how they proceed depending on the consequences but any kid in trouble for misuse is put on some kid of watch list to have their computers checked regularly.

  7. Nearly a month has passed. Still have not received a copy of this document for my review and signature.

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