A group of parents have launched a campaign aimed at getting their concerns about the $30 million Manteca Unified Going Digital program heard and addressed by district officials. This weekend, they are deploying social media via Facebook, email, and telephone tools to get the word out and to encourage parents with similar concerns to get involved.
“We’d like to start writing letters to the district and possibly start a petition” to get their voices heard and to get answers from school officials, said Danielle Benavides, the mother of a high school student and one of the parents who have expressed frustration at being ignored by school officials.
“There are so many questions that the district is not answering,” Benavides said. “There are so many issues that would have been addressed had parents been involved.”
The email address they are setting up for parents to contact them is firstname.lastname@example.org. Their Facebook page is under the same name. Those with Facebook accounts can find the website by looking up that name in the search bar. Or, they can use the link https://www.facebook.com/groups/729765100471649/ to go directly to the group site. Parents who don’t have access online can call 209.232.5396.
Benavides said they have just started the Facebook page and are still working on descriptions and getting things organized, “but we’re welcoming any parents who want to join and help our efforts.”
Below are just a few of the parents’ concerns, and not necessarily in that order:
u Lack of foreknowledge and consent of what’s coming. Going Digital giving each student a computer is being thrown at parents and then are told, “it is what it is whether you’re for it or not,” and that if you’re not for it, “your child will fail,” Benavides said. Parents have been fully informed about children being provided with the computers and all that implied such as signing a contract and paying insurance, she said. With the textbooks, they did not have a problem because they knew what was coming and what was happing – the textbooks were provided free, and if they are damaged or lost, parents have to pay for their replacement. “That’s something we know and consent to before our children start school,” and that wasn’t so with the computers, she said. Furthermore, textbooks are given out at the beginning of the school year. But the computers are being distributed in the middle of the school year, she pointed out.
• Lost homework points. If parents don’t want to be part of Going Digital, and their children cannot complete their homework because they don’t have the computer at home, in which case they will lose points for not turning in their homework, “what happens to the points for those assignments?” Benavides said the concerned parents want to know.
• Not getting answers from school principals and vice principals. Benavides and other parents have tried asking the school administrators questions regarding Going Digital, but she noted that “they don’t have the answers; they don’t have the authority to say anything against the district, so it’s pointless talking to them.”
• Signing contracts under duress. Benavides said many parents have signed the Student Computer Equipment Agreement form but they are “basically signing against their will. One lady signed it but wrote a note: ‘I don’t consent to this.’ Many of them are signing under duress because they’re afraid of their children failing.”
• Students’ safety. “Nobody wants to steal a textbook; I’ve never heard of anybody stealing a textbook,” said Benavides. But despite assurances from district officials that the computers can be tracked down if they get stolen and are rendered unusable if they land in the wrong hands, they are still electronic devices and they have “a price to somebody.” The concern is the safety of the children walking home with these devices. “There are going to be fourth graders walking home with these devices. That’s going to be dollar signs walking on the street with them. We don’t want our kids assaulted for their device,” Benavides said.
• Computer insurance assistance. Is there help available for parents who cannot pay the insurance for the students’ computers? Benavides said some parents want to know. The devices are insured by the Manteca Unified School District. Parents or guardians pay insurance that is either staggered on a monthly basis – with parents paying about $8 per month per student, or discounts may apply in case of multiple children attending MUSD schools at the same time – or it’s paid in full for a year or four years. Those who sign a four-year insurance-coverage contract with the district will end up owning the computer after that time, which brings up another issue, as far as Benavides and other parents are concerned. By that time, the gadget will be obsolete, Benavides pointed out.
• Students’ personal information potentially compromised. Another parent, Adam Karim who has worked in IT for some years and is now involved in software development, pointed out that with students being required to have a Microsoft account, that carries “a huge potential for them to have their personal and demographic information exploited.”
Under the Going Digital program, all 23,000 Manteca Unified School students will receive a Panasonic 3E computer. The first schools to receive these devices are French Camp Elementary and Manteca High. Distribution will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 20, at French Camp Elementary from 8:30 to 10 a.m. during which time members of the news media will have an opportunity to interview school district officials plus some parents and students. The school is located at 241 E. Fourth Street in French Camp.