ACLU Complains Over Massachusetts District iPad Take-Home Policy

A complaint has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education against the Mendon-Upton School District concerning the use of iPads.

The ACLU is arguing that the district is allowing students who qualify for free or reduced price lunches to take iPads home with them, while other students must use the devices only at school unless they purchase the device themselves.  According to the ACLU, this places many students at a disadvantage.

“The discrepancy between these options directly disadvantages students whose parents cannot, or choose not, to purchase iPads,” wrote Sarah Wunsch, the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts deputy legal director.

“Those students are not able to use the iPad at home in the evenings, on weekends, or on holidays to do their homework and continue the learning that this District has deemed an important, if not necessary, part of their school curriculum.”

Laura Rotolo, staff council with the ACLU of Massachusetts, states that every child needs to be given the same amount of access to the devices if they are going to be a necessary component of the curriculum.

The district, however, feels the technology plays a supplemental role in the learning process.  While it is a nice feature, it is not a necessity.

The complaint was filed on behalf of parent Michael Watson, who came across the policy last year when researching iPad options for his son.  While his family could afford to make the expensive purchase, Watson felt it was unfair to those families not in the position to do so.

“Schools must provide equal access to education, regardless of your ability to pay,” he said.  “This isn’t fair to anyone.”

Children who do not have access to the devices for the same amount of time as other students cannot become as familiar with the apps, lesson materials, and will miss out on group collaboration time.

The program was introduced in 2012 as a pilot program for seventh graders.  It is now used throughout the middle school grades.

According to the school’s website, the purpose is to “develop student skills in research, collaboration, developing presentations, and other tasks.”  A similar program exists at Nipmuc Regional High School.

For those students who wish to purchase their own iPad, the school offers several payment methods, typically amounting to several hundred dollars.  At Nipmuc, an iPad Air with Apple Care technical support is offered for $592.  While insurance is not required, it is recommended by the school.

While every child should be able to have the same access to learning devices as every other student, there are still other issues that could cause disadvantages at home, says Scott Himelstein, director of the Mobile Technology Learning Center at the University of San Diego.  Many do not have access to broadband Internet at home.

The school district, who did not make a comment on the situation, was ordered to hand in a report on its iPad usage to the Massachusetts DESE by the end of the month.