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Midway ISD parents resist district’s iPad liability requirement

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As more school districts jump on the iPad/Google Chromebook bandwagon, discord over Midway Independent School District students being issued iPads and parents being required to sign liability forms has created an interesting situation pitting school district ambitions against parental sensibilities.

The iPads are part of the district’s 1-to-1 initiative, a popular trend that seeks – in education industry vernacular – to help schools overcome being “ill-prepared to enter the 21st century owing to a lack of resources, a dearth of appropriate personnel, and some unrealistic expectations.” The “21st century” learning tag (or sometimes 21st century education) is another worn buzz phrase in educational circles.

Midway’s 1-to-1 initiative, part of a $34.5 million bond passed in May 2013, is designed to provide an iPad for every student in grades kindergarten to 12. With 1,996 total bond election votes cast, the McLennan County school district with a student population of 6,871 students passed the measure with 1,143 (57 percent) voting for, 853 (43 percent) voting against.

The Waco Tribune-Herald offered this Jan. 12 reporting on the iPad issue:

But with a price tag of about $500, some parents are hesitant to take responsibility for the device.

Under the agreement, the first time the iPad is broken or stolen, parents must pay for half the cost of a replacement. The second time, and any time after that, they are responsible for the total cost.

Parents wary of signing the agreement said they have already paid for the devices once with their tax dollars through the bond and do not think it is fair to be responsible for damages as well.

Kevin Rimlinger, who has two children in Midway ISD, is one of the parents who said he will not sign the agreement.

“My son is in sixth grade — of course it’s going to get damaged,” Rimlinger said. “It’s a waste of money, and I’m not going to be held liable for that if he drops it, or someone else damages it or steals it.”

Midway ISD spokeswoman Traci Marlin told the Herald that, similarly to when parents opt out of “controversial science or social studies curricula,” teachers will have alternative lesson plans for students without iPads.

She called the iPad agreements “no different from existing policies regarding school property outlined in the Texas Education Code” and cited musical instruments, textbooks, computers and athletic equipment as other items for which parents are responsible if damaged by their child. An insurance option is also available to parents concerned over potential iPad replacement costs.

Some parents expressed plans to sign the agreement fearing retaliatory treatment or isolation of their children via the alternative assignments.

The paper reported that as of the article’s writing, 15 percent or about 332 agreements of the total due had not been turned in although it was unknown if that was from parents refusing to sign or others having forgotten or being unable to.

Comments responding to the Jan. 12 article were far from positive. Some criticism was aimed at the iPad initiative itself, some at its being financed through a bond and some at the district’s handling of the matter including the imposition of parental liability for devices which undoubtedly will be damaged. Several comments also suggested more than “a small group” of parents are concerned.

Recognizing the ongoing opposition, the Herald published a follow-up Roar of the crowd: Irate over iPads article that features selected comments from the paper’s Facebook page.

Concerns regarding this program are not unwarranted. In November 2013, Texas Observer reported on The High Cost of iPad-mania in Public Schools.

The success of Midway ISD’s iPad rollout remains to be seen – both from a financial standpoint and with its effectiveness as a classroom learning tool.

Meanwhile, the approach of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 through Feb. 1) once again reminds that the best learning outcomes and most responsive schools (and school officials) are not necessarily those whose attendance is mandated based on a zip code or geographic district.

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