Principal: Charges for laptop damages should help curb ‘accidents’

PUNXSUTAWNEY — At least one member of the Punxsutawney Area School Board is not buying into the idea that a student who damages one of the high school’s take-home laptop computers should be responsible for financial costs — especially considering the age of the machines.

Last Monday, board member Bob Pascuzzo was the sole board member who voted against approving the 21st Century Learning handbook for the 2011-12 school year with a 7-1 vote.

Board member Penny Pierce was excused from the meeting.

“As soon as you sign that document, you just pleaded guilty to whatever happens to that computer,” Pascuzzo said about the handbook, which includes an accompanying slip that parents must sign before their students can bring the laptops home. “I would not recommend to any parent signing that 20-page document. You just bought a new computer.”
Pascuzzo cited his concerns about the handbook mainly as a parent, specifically a provision that states, as he said, “It’s cut and dried, no matter what, if something happens to the computer, you have to buy a new one.”

PAHS Principal David London said that item in the handbook “paints the worst case scenario.”

He said when the laptop program initially started, the school charged fines for only damage that officials knew was negligent or malicious.
“And quite frankly, we had more damage than we expected,” he said. “And now, a student could be charged if damage is accidental, to eliminate some of those gray areas. The insurance is relatively inexpensive, and you can get a laptop insured from a local business. We’re saying, ‘You as a student and parents need to have a stake here.’”

The item in the handbook was written for situations of negligence and malicious handling of the machines, London said, adding, “But now, we’re finding ‘accidents’ are a lot more prevalent than we think they should be. It’s a tough decision, what’s an accident, what’s negligence.”

He cited one case of a student who had a laptop in a bookbag in a traveling team’s vehicle. That student’s bag was on the bottom of the pile, but when other students threw their bags on top of the other bag, the laptop was damaged. Thus, the question is, was it an accident, in that the machine was damaged after being struck by other bags, or negligence, in that the student should have kept the laptop in a safer place.

“We charge for (damage to) textbooks and other materials, and we think we should charge for this,” London said.

When Pascuzzo asked if there is some type of insurance a student can buy for his or her laptop, Business Administrator Susan Robertson said yes. London added that it is similar to renter’s insurance.

Pascuzzo also asked about the damages to laptops this past school year. London said there was water damage to four or five machines, and staff is working on three or four other individuals’ lists of obligations.

A student may use the personal laptop in school, but if a parent does not sign the slip, the student may not bring the laptop home.

“Accidents happens, but when you have an accident with a car, you need to get it fixed, and it costs money,” London said. “And kids need to learn that.”

Board member Jack White suggested students purchase the insurance before receiving a laptop.

But Pascuzzo — who noted throughout his argument that he’s not against the 21st Century Learning Initiative — said that’s forcing students to buy insurance on a five-year-old machine.

Learning Services Director Gerald Gigliotti said London has the option of forgiving accidents.

There is no charge to students for routine maintenance, London said, but added, “When you break a screen, something happened to that screen.

We’re trying to promote better care and hold them accountable, and we might see fewer damages.”