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Round 2: School board settles on iPad policy

It took a special meeting Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 21, but the River Falls school board OK’d the superintendent’s proposal that says replacing or fixing new iPads distributed to eighth and ninth graders will be handled the same as textbooks or other school materials.

At Monday night’s regular meeting, with the school year two weeks away, the board stalemated on how to handle this replacement issue.

The district bought more than 600 iPads this spring for $309 apiece. They will be tried out this year for classroom use in eighth and ninth grade. Teachers have been trained on how to make the best use of them.

But what happens when students drop or somehow damage their iPad? Or lose it?

Other school districts across the country that use iPads have wrestled with this problem. This, after all, is pricey technology. Replacement policies vary widely.

Monday night school board members also had widely differing views. A few board members were unhappy the issue came up so late and so close to the start of the 2013-14 school year.

At Wednesday afternoon’s special meeting, Superintendent Jamie Benson outlined a proposal that follows school district policy – 363.2-Procedure in the school handbook -- and basically treats replacing iPads the same as textbooks.

The iPads, like textbooks, are given out free. If one is later damaged, students may be charged a repair fee. If one is lost or beyond repair, there’s the potential that a student may be charged the full $309 cost of a new one.

However, school principals will have the final say on replacement costs. Benson said “payment plans” could also be worked out so that a family isn’t hit suddenly with a $309 bill.

The seven-member school board, with a quorum of only four members present – Stacey Johnson Myers, Manny Kenney, Rich Gerczak and Mike Miller – all voted yes.

Benson reiterated the iPad program is just a pilot. Next year, once data is analyzed, there may be a need to consider offering insurance on new iPads. More grade levels of students will get the iPads for the 2014-15 year.

Benson said when the iPad plan was proposed last February, the idea was to give them out free, just as textbooks are.

“This missing piece that was not addressed,” he admitted, “was how we handle iPads that are lost, stolen or broken…I’m not making excuses. We should have dealt with that issue sooner.”

(Benson took over as the new River Falls superintendent July 1.)

Benson also said that the school district believes its students are responsible and will take good care of their iPads. He said there is no expectation that large numbers will need replacing.