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Lost devices not likely to cost parents
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Should a Manteca Unified student lose or break a Panasonic 3E tablet away from school the odds are their family won’t end up paying for it even if they do not purchase the optional insurance at a cost of $5 a month.

Superintendent Jason Messer addressed the concern of parental costs in the event of an off-campus loss on the eve of today’s roll-out of devices being issued to students as part of the $30 million Going Digital effort designed to open up a wide repertoire of educational opportunities beyond the traditional classroom and textbooks.

The devices have been tested at Woodward School. Today marks the first wave of the devices being issued with the first recipients being at French Camp School and Manteca High. It is the first ever large scale deployment of the educational system designed from a partnership between Intel, Microsoft, and Panasonic.

Messer also addressed conflicting perceptions about how homework will be used and what the device is capable of doing.

“All students (in the fourth through 12th grades) will be taking the devices home even if they did not sign the agreement form,” Messer said.

Messer noted devices broken at school unless it was determined it was deliberate will be replaced by the district.

The optional lease/purchase agreement protects the family from theft or damage when the device is off campus. The charge is $5 a month for one child. It means a parent would only be liable for $50 on the first occurrence of a loss and $150 on a second occurrence. The devices have a price of around $300 apiece. A precise replacement cost has yet to be determined. Without the insurance the parent is response for the total replacement cost.

In reality, Messer said that won’t happen in most cases.

“Right now we don’t get payment for a lot of damaged or lost textbooks,” Messer noted.

The most common way textbooks get damaged is in backpacks when they come into contact with a destructive substance such as chocolate milk. He noted a backpack of textbooks could easily cost $280 to replace.

Over the years it has proven costly and ineffective to continue to pursue payment for lost or damaged books if parents don’t pay for them right away. Messer noted turning such debt over to a collection agency means the bill collectors would be taking half of what is owed. On top of that there is the cost of staff time to consider.

And with the Panasonic 3E devices the district already has them insured although they may not get full replacement value.

Such a de facto policy is necessary in a district where nearly 60 percent of the students’ qualify for either free or reduced meals.

Assigned homework can also be done without accessing the Internet at home. That’s because students can download assignments from the school server before going home. Assignments and such will also be posted on the web for downloading anywhere that has Internet access such as at public libraries and Starbucks. What can’t happen is anyone accessing the school’s system directly without a Panasonic 3E device.

Messer stressed that for the rest of the current school year students will primarily be learning how to use the devices. They won’t become a completely integrated tool for teaching curriculum until the 2015-16 school year.

The superintendent said in retrospect some of the concerns could have come from a decision to boldface the line,”Parent/Guardian will be charged the actual full cost of any portion of the Equipment that is lost, stolen, or damaged. (BP 5135.5) This liability may be reduced by Parent/Guardian enrolling in the Equipment Lease/Purchase Program.”

Messer said the most important part of the agreement for the district was the last paragraph. It reads, “Parent/Guardian and Student agree to release, indemnify and hold District, its Governing Board, Officers, Agents, Employees, and Volunteers harmless from all claims, actions, proceedings, costs, damages, and liabilities including attorneys’ fees, arising out of, connected with, or resulting from the use of the Equipment both during the Agreement and any subsequent possession by Parent/Guardian or Student after the Agreement term. This provision shall survive the Agreement term.”

Messer noted that at French Camp School, 100 percent of the parents signed the agreement while about half opted for the lease/purchase agreement. French Camp has the district’s highest number of students on free or reduced lunches.

He also stressed the district’s system has been designed so that the camera function can’t be accessed at all by the school system. The devices do, however, have the ability to be remotely disabled when they are lost rendering them useless. Messer added the components are unique to the Panasonic 3E meaning they can’t be cannibalized and used for other devices.

Assistant Superintendent Clark Burke noted the device is designed to enhance what teachers do by opening up a wide array of educational possibilities that go way beyond a textbook. Some science classrooms, for example, will have inexpensive add on devices that students will be able to use in class to convert the device’s camera function into a microscope capable of viewing plant cells. The add-on devices are pennies on the dollar compared to the cost of traditional microscopes. The system and devices are also capable of delivering platforms that can add a three-dimensional aspect to some learning scenarios. Those are things a textbook can’t do, he noted.

Messer said the district will never completely wean off textbooks noting there are some uses such as teaching reading to a young student that can’t be effectively duplicated with a tablet.