Parents upset after school asks them to buy laptops

The Associated Press
Monday October 29, 2001

PALO ALTO – Parents of students at Jordan Middle School are upset after school officials asked them to buy their sixth-graders $2,000 laptops. 

Two weeks ago, more than 300 parents got a letter from the school principal and the district’s technology director asking them to buy the Apple iBook laptops with wireless Internet access as part of the school’s new technology program. 

Both the letter and school staff said the purchase is optional, but enrollment in the program, which also will rely heavily on a bank of school-purchased laptops to be kept at school, is not. 

“An optional program is never really optional,” said Steve Weinstein, a parent who started an e-mail campaign to halt the laptop program. “There are a lot of people who don’t have $2,000 to spend, but they are going to be forced into it because it’s the Palo Alto way: ’My kid might be disadvantaged if he’s four steps behind, so I’ve got to do what is necessary.’ ” 

Informational meetings were held last week in the school’s library and at the Apple retail store on University Avenue. 

“They need to open their eyes that not everyone in Palo Alto is loaded,” said Kathryn Varda, the mother of sixth-grade twins enrolled at Jordan. “There’s no way I could afford to shell out four grand right now. But do you really want your child to be the one who is hanging back and watching everyone else use a computer?” 

School officials say 35 percent of the parents have said they will not be buying an iBook, but 25 percent say they will buy one. The rest are unsure. 

Supporters of the program are quick to highlight the experiences of 51 Jordan sixth-graders who participated in a pilot laptop program last spring. 

Students borrowed laptops for 90 days. They typed their notes in class, stored them in virtual lockers and then accessed the notes at home for their homework. With the wireless connection, they could conduct research from class, at the library or at a park.