Andrew Rogers missed his senior prom, and his mother believes a politically-motivated stalemate with school administrators may cost him the opportunity to attend graduation at Lansing High School.
He’ll receive his diploma, but if administrators have their way, he won’t be permitted to attend the graduation ceremony with his classmates because of a dispute over a $100 iPad screen.
At the end of his junior year, the screen on Andrew’s iPad cracked. Terry Rogers, Andrew’s mother, says it was in its protective case in his backpack. Sometime during his walk between one class and the next, the screen cracked.
Andrew reported the cracked screen, and officials told him that he owed $100 even after he explained that he had not misused the iPad in any way.
“I said we’re not paying for something that wasn’t our fault,” Terry said. “We didn’t ask for this tablet in the first place.”
Andrew turned in the iPad and charger at the end of his junior year. At the start of this school year, school officials refused to issue Andrew an iPad or to re-issue to him the one with the cracked screen.
During the first two weeks of school Andrew fell far behind in his classes.
“He felt ostracized for not having an iPad and felt that some of his teachers were not providing him with the tools he needed to keep up without an iPad,” Terry said.
She and her husband, Rett, took a meeting with the high school principal on August 19, 2016.
“We told him this is ridiculous,” she said. “We didn’t sign a contract. You didn’t ask our permission to give our child this tablet. We didn’t assume any sort of responsibility for the maintenance, repair or anything.”
The principal at that point told the Rogers he didn’t have the authority to waive the fee and sent the pair to the superintendent, who told them the principal is the only one who has authority to waive fees. The principal refused.
Dan Wessel, Lansing School District Assistant Superintendent, says parents assume responsibility for all educational tools, including textbooks and iPads, at enrollment.
“If our son willfully damaged, destroyed or lost a textbook or even the iPad, we would be the first people in line to say we need to make this right, because it’s the right thing to do,” Terry said. “But there’s a difference between a textbook and a very valuable iPad. Textbooks can still be used even if a page gets folded or gets a little water on it. These pieces of technology are much more sensitive and can be broken very easily. The school should have considered those differences before it issued the iPads to the students.”
The school should have asked parents to sign a contract or agreement disclosing all associated potential costs to the parents, according to Terry.
“They should have given parents the choice to opt out while ensuring that opted-out students still received an equal educational opportunity,” she says.
Terry and her husband are well-known Republican activists. Terry was the campaign manager for former state Rep. Tony Barton, a staunch conservative. Her husband, Rett, is the Leavenworth County Republican Party Chair. Because the district has waived fees for other students, Terry believes the district’s decision to punish her son may have political undertones.
“I do believe this has to do with who we are and not that the school has to have $100. I have to believe there’s something more to it, especially when I know fees have been waived for other people,” Terry says.
Wessel didn’t speak about any specific students or incidents, but, he says the district maintains policies about student misuse and destruction of equipment. The school principals decide which students are charged and which fees are waived.
“We try to be as consistent as we can, and we allow our principals to make those decisions,” Wessel said. “You and I as outside individuals that do these investigations–the nuances and differences between one situation and another situation, I can’t speak to that.”
If there’s an accidental breakage through no fault of the student and a teacher witnesses it, that’s a different story than another student who says he had it in his book bag and then the student dropped the book bag, Wessel explained.
“Where does the responsibility lie?” Wessel said. “It’s never as easy as one person is charged, and one person isn’t. There’s always a lot of circumstance there.”
Wessel says the district will work with parents to set up payment plans or in other ways when they owe fees.
“We don’t want to limit any kid for the money that they owe, but unfortunately, that’s the kind of the world we live in, especially with the state of public education in the state of Kansas,” Wessel said. “When the funding doesn’t always come through, and we have some things that we’ve started, and the funding doesn’t come through, those fees get pushed elsewhere.”
Per-pupil spending for the Lansing district increased 80 percent since 2005 and a lot of that money funded staff expansion. Enrollment increased by 23 percent since 2005, but the district expanded staffing by 72 percent. Meanwhile, extra fees are passed onto families.
One of those fees was pushed to the Rogers family. They have until May 12 to pay the fee so Andrew can attend graduation. Wessel says there are 20 students of Lansing High School’s senior class of 239 in danger of not taking part in the school graduation ceremony.
The Lansing School District is among the 90 percent of Kansas districts with a one-to-one, or 1:1, program. These programs provide each student a technological device like an Ipad, Chromebook, or laptop. The district allows middle school and elementary school students to have iPads, but the devices stay in the classrooms rather than being sent home with the students. Lansing USD 469 began sending all high school students home with iPads two years ago, when Andrew was a junior.
Wessel said the district didn’t make a big deal about sending the iPads home with students.
“There was some apprehension on the part of the parents. Anytime you have a change, you do get pushback,” Wessel said. “For us, it’s no different than any other education resource we would have. We had an acceptable use policy in place that we thought covered the use of iPads.”
Terry said the devices undermine parental authority. For example, she sometimes revokes Andrew’s cell phone privileges as a form of discipline, but he can use his school-issued iPad to message friends instead.
“When Andrew was given his iPad last year, we were not happy about that at all,” Terry says. “The way we see it, when a school is going to hand a child an expensive piece of technology that will undermine parental authority, we should be consulted.”
There are also privacy concerns related to issuing the technology to students. Nationwide, some districts have policies that say students shouldn’t have any expectation of privacy when using their school-issued devices. In Pennsylvania, parents filed a class action lawsuit alleging that a suburban Philadelphia-area school district remotely activated webcams on school-issued laptops to spy on students in their own homes. School officials secretly snapped more than 66,000 images of students. The school district settled that case and a parallel lawsuit for $610,000 in 2010.