25 Oct What Happens When Parents Say “No” to School-Issued Chromebooks?
When parents are reluctant to sign technology-use agreements, schools should use nonaggressive techniques to address their concerns.
Every year, districts with one-to-one laptop programs hand out technology-use agreements to make sure parents and students understand the conditions of borrowing school-issued computers. Depending on the program structure, these obligatory forms might lay out the rules for handling the devices or a parent’s liability for damaged devices. District administrators spend months (or years) thinking about how to pay for computers, train staff and organize a successful rollout. With so many other concerns on the table, officials aren’t always prepared for one rare yet challenging obstacle: resistance from parents.
Making Technology Mandatory in Classrooms
When one mother in City View Independent School District refused to sign the agreement for her teenaged son, officials of the Wichita Falls, Texas, high school had no idea how to move forward. The parent objected to the district’s accidental damage policy, which holds families liable for up to $235 in repair or replacement costs. The woman was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to pay the fees right away in the event of an accident, and she found it unreasonable for parents to cover the full cost for Chromebooks that aren’t new.
City View had no protocol for working with parents who want to opt out, raising the question of whether public school districts have the right to make it mandatory for students to participate in one-to-one programs. In this divisive debate, proponents of educational technology often reason that laptops and tablets are no different than other types of classroom tools, such as pencils and textbooks. The type of learning tool shouldn’t be an issue as long as it effectively helps children engage with the curriculum and build valuable skills.
However, cost adds a new, complicated dimension to the one-to-one debate, as parents of varying income levels are suddenly expected to foot the bill for devices they didn’t choose to provide. Before laptop one-to-one programs became a fixture in American classrooms, it was common for parents, teachers and administrators to have mixed reactions. Computer initiatives were criticized as expensive, distracting, unnecessary and disabling, likely to produce students who are dependent on technology and lacking in many traditional skills.
While laptop programs still have plenty of critics, general opinion has shifted amid the growing reality that students need a thorough technological education to prepare for careers and higher education. Skills in computing and digital communications are in demand in every industry, and providing access to technology in schools is one of the most effective ways to even the playing field between poor and privileged children.
Anticipating the Reasons Why Parents Object
For districts launching a Chromebook program, it’s essential to get parents onboard long before the rollout. Schools must respect every family’s financial and cultural concerns while showing parents the value of equipping students with computers. In the City View incident, the disagreement was exacerbated when the mother was told that her son would have to attend in-school suspension if she didn’t sign the form. Although the superintendent denied those allegations, the conflict serves as a reminder that district officials shouldn’t be aggressive toward parents who are reluctant to sign technology contracts.
Understandably, parents have their own priorities and beliefs surrounding education, and asking questions is an important part of staying involved in a child’s school activities. The most common reasons for an objection include cost and screen time, and officials can often overcome these obstacles with simple compromises.
Objection # 1: Cost
Many districts face fewer cost objections because they buy or lease Chromebooks using budgeted funds and cover the insurance costs. When a fully funded program isn’t possible, districts can come up with multiple pay structures to accommodate parents of different income levels. Parents need reassurance that they are being charged fairly and have options for managing the debt.
For example, a deductible system lets parents pay a reduced, fixed portion of the cost before school coverage kicks in. In a tiered payment system, fees start out low and increase with subsequent damage. In City View ISD, the superintendent offered a flexible plan with variable payments to parents with financial limitations. Unfortunately, many school districts choose a payment structure without consulting parents at all. By polling families before the rollout, officials can determine the best options to make Chromebook programs viable for parents and schools.
Objection #2 Screen Time
When tackling concerns about screen time, officials should ask about the parent’s specific values and objections. Do parents view laptops as a classroom distraction? Do they restrict computer usage in general, or are they concerned about how students are using the devices in schools? Do parents need surety that their children cannot access inappropriate content?
With modern children growing up in a cloud of laptops, tablets and smartphones, many parents are seeking balance and don’t want schools to extend screen time. Others want to maintain control of when, where and how children use the internet, and they don’t believe computers are a necessity of learning. In any of these scenarios, the smartest approach is to SHOW parents how digital learning initiatives improves the educational experience. Make it clear that the devices are tools used in conjunction with other materials to enrich the curriculum, and students aren’t using them purely for games or social media.
School officials can’t always persuade parents to go along with one-to-one programs, and parents who object may have fewer options as more districts distribute laptops. Avoiding threats and ultimatums can help administrators stay on good terms with parents, and leading with compromise may encourage those last few holdouts to sign technology-use agreements.
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