ROARING SPRING - Spring Cove school board's monthly meeting turned into an hourlong community forum on the district's new one-laptop-per-student initiative Monday, as parents peppered board members with questions and debated the technology program's success.
Some parents repeated old concerns that administrators have since answered, but some raised new ones, including the fear that students whose families opt out of the Chromebook computer initiative could be mocked or bullied by their peers.
Superintendent Robert Vadella said the "one-to-one" program for grades six to 12 has been a success so far, with 97 percent of middle school students and 90 percent of high school students using the Web-based Chromebooks in classes and at home. The remaining students' parents haven't returned the necessary paperwork or a $25-per-family fee administrators have assessed.
"The kids that do not have them; there's bullying," a district mother said as audience members shouted questions to the board. "Because of y'all's mistake, there's kids getting bullied, getting cut down."
Students whose families haven't paid are issued classroom laptops, which some parents suggested were of lower quality.
Board members vowed to deal with any bullying.
Several parents questioned the purpose of the technology fee, which Vadella has compared to an insurance deductible. For $25 per family - less for those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches - Spring Cove can maintain a fund to replace and repair broken Chromebooks, Vadella said.
While at least one mother expressed a preference for paper textbooks, most at the Monday meeting said they recognize the importance of high-tech education. The problems, father Jason Caruso of Martinsburg said, surround the expense and the concern that families are signing up for insurance-like contracts with insufficient explanation.
Others argued that young children are too clumsy or inattentive to be trusted with expensive equipment, especially with the possibility that parents could be on the hook for replacements.
"Any time you have a new initiative you run the risk of anything not going smoothly," board member Charlene Dodson said. "We are trying to look for ways to bring new items to students to keep them competitive."
While the meeting grew heated at times, several parents seemed pleased to find a forum for their Chromebook concerns.
"We came here to get an answer," Caruso said. "And honestly, sitting here, I think you did well."