Urbana parents worried about security, privacy and cost of the school district’s Chromebooks program told the school board’s Curriculum Committee members about those issues Monday.
The committee met to learn more about what parents thought of the program and what options may be acceptable to them as part of the program. The school board formally approved the program in March 2016 for two grade levels for the current school year. The approved program offered payment options for families, with additional options added after the program got started and after parent feedback.
At recent board meetings, parents questioned why the payment is the same whether the Chromebook is purchased from the district or whether a student leaves it at school.
Parent Victoria Hurley previously asked the board about the cost and wondered if it was possible to reduce it for families that have other technology at home. Parents can purchase the device outright or pay an annual fee to own it after four years. Hurley said for those who don’t want the Chromebooks, the cost is currently the same as for those who are purchasing them.
Technology administrators had taken that suggestion into consideration and were planning on recommending a $35 annual fee to use Chromebooks at school for families that have technology at home. They would not be purchasing the devices and the devices would be stored at school.
Hurley reiterated this cost concern at Monday’s meeting.
Board members Jack Beard and Tim Lacy both said the school board approved the Chromebook program, but that action did not include the different payment plans. Superintendent Charles Thiel said the approval included those costs. The board’s official record indicates the resolution did not include costs, though the information was included as supplemental documentation, Treasurer Mandy Hildebrand said.
Parents also spoke of concerns about safety and privacy for their children, considering recent news reports of identity theft issues and security breaches.
Director of Technology Kurt Hanson said the district uses antivirus software and firewalls through its internet service provider. The district also has management software with the Chromebooks that limit applications and internet sites that can be accessed while the technology is at school.
Kathy Stouffer said children in younger grades should not have this technology, because they may destroy it during everyday use. She said she preferred to have younger students using paper and pencil, rather than using screens all the time. She said she also feared the technology would be too much of a distraction for younger children and that they would not keep up with their schoolwork.
Jody Rooney said she was concerned about the cost for a family with multiple children in the district and wondered if the district considered a discount for multiple children.
Hurley said she would like to see a survey go out to parents to get their feedback, and the committee and school administrators said they would do that.
Thiel said it may take a couple of weeks to develop the survey. It would likely be posted on the district’s website.
The school board had planned on voting on additional Chromebook cost options at its meeting Tuesday, but that decision may be postponed until after the survey is completed, Thiel said.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.