Urbana board learns about other Chromebook options


By Casey S. Elliott - celliott@civitasmedia.com



A new program providing Google Chromebook technology to Urbana City Schools students has drawn ire from some parents who already have similar technology available for their children.

Administrators at the school district have been offering the Chromebooks for sale through a variety of payment plans, and at the end of the student’s time in the district, the Chromebook becomes their property. But parents who already have electronics that can do the same things – or more – than the Chromebooks object to the cost for something they don’t need.

Last month, parent Victoria Hurley said several parents would like another option, especially those with multiple children in the district with their own technology. The Chromebooks have payment options that range from paying for it up front to paying for it over a four-year period. Administrators added an option for parents to pay $50 for the Chromebook to be left at school and the student uses their technology at home. But Hurley said that’s the same price another parent would pay to own it outright.

Another parent, Cathy Landolfo, said she is more concerned about the privacy issues related to the Chromebooks being used by students. Though Landolfo said her children are homeschooled and do not use the district’s Chromebooks, she is a taxpayer of the district and fears how student information is being used.

“More technology is not necessarily better,” she said.

Landolfo said she also opposes Common Core, the state standards adopted by many states in the United States. Though not a curriculum and not required to be adopted, the standards outline skills students should have by certain grade levels. Some states have later pulled out of the adoption of the standards for various reasons.

Ohio has adopted Common Core, though some legislators have sought rescinding that adoption.

Landolfo said she opposes the Common Core for similar reasons she opposes the required state testing and the Chromebooks themselves. She said she fears the information being used in all of the metrics online, whether through the Chromebooks or the testing itself, are privacy concerns.

“How do you protect students’ privacy, is it possible?” she asked. “I don’t know what Google’s intentions are. Not everybody’s intentions are good.”

State tests are moving to being completely online in Ohio.

“It’s really about control – it comes back to that one word: control,” she said. “Why do we have to focus on training our kids for the workforce. They aren’t all going to be computer people…there are different things they can do that don’t necessarily have you sitting at a desk in front of a computer.”

Director of Technology Integration Kelli Marsh said administrators got together to come up with another couple of options to address parents’ concerns – a $35 annual usage fee where parents would leave the Chromebook at the school, and a $0 cost option to use it at school. The $35 annual fee would cover the software needed to use the Chromebook.

Both of those options would increase the costs to the district, which purchases the Chromebooks outright, and then sells them to the parents, Marsh said. The $0 option would be significantly more pricey to the district, and Marsh said she did not think it was feasible for the long-term health of the program.

Board members Jack Beard and Tim Lacy said they were disappointed administrators did not meet with parents before coming up with another option.

“I’m confused, disappointed, maybe. Didn’t we go to the parents that came to us? When we were looking at the possibility of changing what we had established (for the Chromebook program),” Beard asked.

Lacy agreed, adding: “I thought we were in agreement to meet as a group and collaborate with you.”

Urbana Superintendent Charles Thiel and Director of Technology Kurt Hanson said they thought board members were going to set up a meeting with them and parents who were interested in changing the Chromebook payment options. But when they did not hear anything, they went ahead and met to research the issue and provide more payment options for the board to consider.

“Since we hadn’t heard anything, we thought it best to come up with some options, so if we do meet, the options have been floated out there,” Hanson said.

No decisions on the Chromebook payment options were made at the board meeting. Thiel said Wednesday neither Beard or Lacy contacted him after the meeting to discuss the Chromebook program or have a separate discussion with parents.

If there are no further meetings, Thiel said he expects the board will vote on the $35 annual usage fee option at the board’s next meeting on April 18. A decision needs to be made to inform parents about next year’s program, which would be expanded to include incoming sixth and ninth graders.

By Casey S. Elliott

celliott@civitasmedia.com

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.