Wicomico School Laptops Are Mandatory for Hybrid, But Parents Are Responsible For Damages
The Wicomico County Board of Education has received millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds, enough for them to furnish the entire school system with enough laptops and equipment for every student and teacher. This met the school's pre-COVID visionary plan of having technology for each and every student. If not for COVID-19, we would be many years away from achieving the school system's goal. In place of traditional teaching materials such as books, handouts, and paper, these laptops will replace education as we know it. Moving forward, WCBOE has decided to make these laptops mandatory if you want your child to physically attend Wicomico County Public Schools in a hybrid environment.
On February 9, 2021, WCBOE presented in their monthly board meeting that the school system has reached the goal of 15,000 laptops, enough for each student in the school system (pictured above). Most have the DELL Latitude 3380, which was manufactured back in 2017. Several parents sent us pictures of their school-issued laptops, which we see that they all used, off-lease refurbished laptops that have been previously used for 3 years by someone other than the WCBOE. It was said that these laptops were pulled from laptop carts to be repurposed for virtual learning. They did not have 15,000 used laptops on hand, so that story may only be partially true. Of all the laptops we looked up, they were all originally purchased in 2017 and have expired warranties.
This confirms that they are off-lease systems when looking up the service tag on the bottom of the system. Based on refurbished pricing data, they are worth about $375 (less in bulk). Also, the school system is leasing these previously used systems. Therefore, the replacement price of $500 offered to parents is greater than what they actually paid, or what they did not pay (since the systems are leased). WCBOE needs to focus on education and not on the profit of computers.
During the end of the 2019-2020 year and into the 2020-2021 school year, laptops were scarcely distributed due to supply and demand, especially for refurbished equipment. In addition, they could only be configured so fast with limited IT staff. All of these things are understandable. Some readers might be asking themselves "so what, who really cares?" The issue is not whether your child has a new or used laptop, but the ethics of what comes next.
The student laptops are going to break.
The average laptop lasts about 5 years (+/-). The lithium battery will only hold a full charge for about 1.5-2 years, and then it goes downhill from there. You're lucky to get 3 years out of a laptop battery. In addition, these models have internal batteries (non-user replaceable) that cannot be simply removed without dismantling the laptop. Coming off lease, these systems already have shown their age, and will hold an uncertain future over the next 2-3 years if they even last that long. The schools did not supply padded cases for these laptops. The laptops will be thrown into backpacks, dropped on the ground, and receive daily battery charging. These are all things that will impact the life of the laptops in addition to the normal wear-and-tear from banging away on the keyboard. Laptop computers are disposable. Knowing this, WCBOE tries to place the liability and warranty of its used devices on the parents of students:
If you signed one of these, you may want to withdraw your agreement as to what comes next. A menu of repair costs if your child breaks anything:
WCBOE is either profiting from repair fees or making you pay for those who can't.
To our surprise, either WCBOE is profiting from the repairs or making gullible parents who are willing to pay for the repairs offset the cost for those who refuse or cannot afford the repairs. This is a model very similar to the American Health Care Act (Obama Care). This is not fair or ethical.
How does the Delmarva Parent Teacher Coalition know this for sure?
One of our the fellow members has an IT business, and has sold and serviced Dell equipment for over 30 years. If purchasing replacement parts for the Dell Latitude 3380, a genuine Dell replacement touch screen costs $100, a keyboard for $20, and a hinge kit for $15. If purchasing in bulk, you can get an even greater deal on these parts. For an even greater bargain when repairing a used laptop, aftermarket parts are available in the $70-$80 range for a replacement screen. That means that WCBOE is profiting around $50 for a screen if we want to be generous by not accounting for bulk purchases or aftermarket parts (which the profit would be much greater) not including labor. For a keyboard, they are profiting $80 and the hinge kits, they are profiting $35. When working on used systems, the aftermarket parts work just fine. Upon inspection, aftermarket laptop parts are usually the same as Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts, just with an added Dell sticker. Therefore, opportunities for extra savings are available to them.
Now for labor, they are charging what seems to be a reasonable flat-rate of $20. Let us remind you that we taxpayers already pay WCBOE to have an IT staff. We owe them nothing, no matter how many laptops they have to repair. We should not reimburse the WCBOE for salaries that we already pay. This is a double-dip and a sham. If WCBOE says that they have to send laptops out to be repaired, then we are both being ripped off. Laptop repair is something that their IT staff should be able to do as part of their job function. If they don't know how to repair laptops, our fellow member has offered to provide the IT staff of WCBOE a one-time laptop repair workshop to train them how to replace their listed repair items. In the end, there's no excuse.
Knowing this, you can see there's profit even if genuine parts are used. It appears that the school system is taking advantage of the citizens.
Why doesn't the WCBOE have an insurance policy on their laptops?
The question is, why hasn't the WCBOE taken out an insurance policy on these laptops, purchased extra units, or obtained bulk parts at a discount for when they do break? It's not a matter of if laptops will break, but when. They are receiving enough COVID-19 relief funds in order to take such responsible measures. If they have not already done these things, then their intentions don't look very good by trying to take advantage of parents who are already having a difficult time as it is.
Are you concerned about your child's privacy?
What's wrong with that? My child won't do anything illegal.
It's not a matter of what your child will do, it's what WCBOE can do - monitor your child's usage, activity, and behavior. It is confirmed through communications with WCBOE's laptop support help desk that the school can remote into the school-supplied laptop for as long as the laptop is connected to the Internet. This gives them the ability to view the laptop camera remotely, creating an issue of personal privacy (just hope that your child is dressed). Just so you are aware, there are school systems that have gathered usage data on students and sold/provided the data to a third party. Although WCBOE has gathered data on our students and provided to third parties without parental knowledge or permission in the past. We have not confirmed that your child's usage statistics will be sold/provided to 3rd parties with the use of WCBOE-supplied laptops as of yet. We do know that some FERPA & COPPA student privacy laws are being ignored as it relates to student privacy, parental notification, authorization, and transparency.
What if I don't want the responsibility and just want my child to bring their own laptop?
To date, the WCBOE has allowed students to use their own Internet-enabled phones (devices) in class. In fact, many teachers assumed that every child had a smart phone, which was wrong. Many teachers have instructed the class to lookup assignments on their phones during class. For some children who did not have a smart phone, this created an unnecessary obstacle to learning, as it has created unnecessary discrimination and peer bullying.
After receiving different answers from different schools on whether or not a student could use their own laptop, it created much confusion as some said "YES" and some said "NO." Some students are currently using their own personal laptops in school with the help of teachers who did not give out the school's Wi-Fi keys, but connected the student's laptop to the school's Internet on their behalf. When administration at the WCBOE central office was asked to confirm regarding students bringing their own laptop, this was their response: "Only school-system issued laptops may be used in schools. Students who have been using a personal laptop at home will need a school-issued laptop at school; parents/guardians should communicate with the school if the student will need a device."
We are now at a time when those who chose to bring their own equipment to school, WCBOE should allow a student to do so based on the ADM-TEC-PL-004 Acceptable Use of Technology Policy and the ADM-TEC-PR-002 Acceptable Use of Technology Procedure, which WCBOE addresses BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). "Use of student personal electronic devices (cell phones, tablets, etc.) is permitted in designated schools according to the following stipulations: a. Personal electronic device use in classrooms should be strictly for instructional purposes which shall be at the discretion of the teacher in a given class."
On page 15 of the WCPS 2020-20121 Recovery Plan, a statement on acceptable laptop use for school:
According to their own policy, the Recovery Plan, and the historical use of smartphones in the class, the answer should be YES, unless the teacher wants to discriminate based on a student's device. You be the judge on your child binging their own device as long as they also have their own mobile hotspot to access the Internet, since your child is not allowed to connect to the school's Wi-Fi. If they allowed smartphone use in the past, they must allow tablets and laptops since they are both "devices."
How does this all end?
WCPS administration has a track record of making up their own rules on the spot, and their wishy-washy, double-standards discriminate against parents depending on who's asking. If you signed a liability waiver, then you may want to contact the school in writing and and let them know that you no longer agree to the terms. If you did not sign a waiver, then there is not much to worry about unless your concerned with your child's privacy. If a parent choses, their child should be able to bring their own device whether connected to the school's Wi-Fi or their own mobile hotspot.
Although some may see technology in the class as a positive "cutting-edge" move into the future, many parents beg to differ and are skeptical. They see this as a means of eliminating physical books and controlling the teaching of each child, while having little to no parental involvement in their child's education. In addition, looking at a screen all day is not good for young eyes, their mental health, or the privacy of students.
In conclusion, WCBOE needs to do their job and write sound policies and do things in an ethical manner. If anything, COVID-19 has caused parents to be more aware and their eyes opened to many things that the WCBOE (or administration) has gotten away with in the past. The question is, what are we allowing the school system to do to our children, and why is it at our expense?
Please contact our officials below to express your concerns and opinion of their conduct:
WCBOE Board Members
Donald Fitzgerald - firstname.lastname@example.org
Gene Malone - email@example.com
Allen Brown - firstname.lastname@example.org
John Palmer - email@example.com
Tonya Lewis - firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Murray - email@example.com
Ann Suthowski - firstname.lastname@example.org
Fellows & Editors
Copyright DelmarvaPTC.org 2021
Image of devices - WCBOE - https://www.wcboe.org/cms/lib/MD50000151/Centricity/Domain/4/Updates%20for%20Board%20-%202-9-21.pdf