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Laptop Program Won't Be Folding

An agreement between Fullerton schools and the ACLU allows families to borrow a $1,500 computer or use grants to buy one.

April 27, 2006|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Fullerton students will be allowed to borrow school laptops if their families don't want to purchase the $1,500 computers required under a program aimed at integrating technology into students' lives, according to a settlement agreement announced Wednesday.

The accord between the Fullerton School District and the American Civil Liberties Union ends months of controversy over the program, which some parents had criticized as too expensive for public school students.

"We fulfilled our fundamental objective, which was to make sure that no child's participation in the program was [based] on their family paying for a computer or getting some kind of [fee] waiver from that payment," said Hector Villagra, director of the ACLU's Orange County office.

District Supt. Cameron McCune added in a written statement that the laptop program remains "a valued component in the education process" and that he is "hopeful the entire community can now move forward in a positive way for its continued and future implementation."

Initially, the pilot program required parents to buy the computers. Students whose families could afford the computers but chose not to purchase them, or did not want to give personal financial information to the district to obtain a fee waiver, were transferred to different classrooms, sometimes at other schools.

Under the terms of the settlement, which was negotiated over four months, parents at the district's 20 elementary and middle schools will decide whether to participate in the laptop program.

If 90% of the families in a school or grade buy a computer, the district will provide the remaining students with loaners. If fewer than 90% buy laptops, the district will provide loaners for the remaining students or discontinue the program in that school or grade.

Low-income families can tap grants to buy a computer or borrow one from the district and be counted toward a school's 90% threshold.

The settlement will be included in a class action lawsuit the ACLU will file against the district today to ensure its enforcement.

Parent Heather Sutherland said she became a plaintiff in the suit to protest the mounting out-of-pocket costs of her sixth-grade daughter's education.

"We finally had to draw a line in the sand at $1,500," Sutherland said.

"It's a public school. You can't charge for kids to engage in an educational activity."

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