Palm Beach County families might be required to pay for students’ damaged laptops

Chris Perkins, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·2 min read

Parents of children in the School District of Palm Beach County could be financially responsible for their student’s lost, damaged or stolen school-issued laptop computers, according to a measure that was approved Wednesday by the school board.

If the policy is adopted next month, it becomes rule.

The district said the Google Chromebooks it issued to satisfy home learning requirements brought on by COVID-19 cost about $275 apiece. Michael Burke, the district’s chief financial officer, said the district experiences 8% breakage, which is slightly more than what he said is the national average of 6% breakage.

Repairs costs for those breakages total $810,000, Burke said.

“It’s significant,” he said.

However, warranties cover much of that cost, he said.

The district said the remaining repair cost is $98,394, and $5,295 has been collected, leaving an outstanding balance right now of $93,099.

Principals, based on their familiarity with the student’s home situation, could have discretion regarding which students can afford to pay repair costs, according to Glenda Sheffield, the district’s chief academic officer.

If parents don’t pay the repair cost the student could be prevented from participating in extracurricular activities. If the parents can’t pay the repair cost the student could do community service to work off the expense.

Still, administrators seemed perplexed on how to apply and enforce the proposed regulation. Chairman Frank Barbieri admitted having “mixed feelings.”

“I certainly don’t want to force a family to go between eating and replacing a laptop that the kid brought home,” he said at the board meeting. “But these children need to be taught responsibility. We have a whole generation of children out there that think everything is free.”

Barbieri said “there’s got to be some consequences to make sure that these kids understand that that is an expensive piece of equipment” that taxpayers and organizations have helped finance.