A Parallel Universe: No Laptops For These Kids

The school is situated in a leafy glen, smack in the middle of a sophisticated and cosmopolitan city in the Southeast United States. We’re here because kid #2 is testing into its upper school. Nervous? Well, we should be, but we know that her K-8 years in Fullerton have prepared her well. She’s had diligent teachers, a solid home environment and the helpful staff at the Richman Boys And Girls Club who’ve been instrumental in taking her and some lucky teenagers through a nationally recognized leadership program. The only thing she hasn’t had, was a laptop. Her school, Beechwood, has never embraced the program or the belief that they were necessary for success.

The private school here is the stuff you dream of: tetherballs in the lower schools situated in the middle of forest surrounded by tall trees. The sixty-five acre campus is awash with nature. Most students have attended since Pre-K and will graduate with their high school diploma.  The teachers are vibrant. Many went to Ivy League colleges, and some have doctorates. They come here because they can teach subjects in depth, while enjoying the support of parents and the enthusiasm of children and teens.

Yet, for all its bells and whistles –which are considerable, the school does not allow students to bring laptops on campus. Why? Because everything is provided for them at school. The computer lab looks similar to the ones found at the public high schools in Fullerton, as do the classrooms and library. But, while the computer is heavily used, they also put a lot of stock into writing with paper and pencil –the kind of writing that catches kids off guard, makes them think on their feet without the luxury of googling for facts, that challenges to formulate a story, idea, argument –and support it all on their own. Tiring? You betcha. That’s the point.

So, if a top tier school that has 19 AP courses, whose students apply to an average of 13 colleges, are admitted into the best colleges and universities, and has garnered over $4 million in Merit Scholarships doesn’t support personal laptops in school, why should we?

Granted, a lot of the students could probably well afford it. Most of them might have them at home.  But one thing we noticed was that the students were actively engaged with the instructor. In other words, they were being taught how to learn, to interact, to figure things out. They were listening to the ideas of the other students. They weren’t on their laptops, googling, facebooking, or IM’ing.

The Fullerton School District would be far better off taking those precious resources and investing heavily in leadership skills, the humanities, and social skills that will help the students function in times of adversity. Adversity? Of course. As much as parents want to plan their children’s lives, the only certainty in life is that  no matter how well you’re doing, bad things and unfortunate times  take place. Plans change constantly, and the more we prepare our children for it, the better they will fare. Nothing should be etched in stone except for your love.

FFFF makes no secret of its opposition to the laptop program. But, we’re not Luddites. The fight against it has been led by Travis, who makes his living in the field using and refining internet technology.  What is so appalling about the program is the presumption that laptops are the key to a portal that leads to instant success. It’s simply not true.

We also know that not all kids are college bound, and worse, many enroll without knowing why they are there. Paranoia gives rise to the worst kind of snobbishness –the type that warns children if they don’t follow a beaten path, they will fail in life. This paranoia drives parents to go in debt using high interest credit cards to buy laptops in the hope that the magic of Google will take up permanent residence in their child’s brain. This snobbery drives kids crazy, it depresses them, can even extinguish their deepest desires.

One friend of mine, a social networking theorist with many advanced degrees (and clients to boot) has said that the students who are going to do the best over the next 20 years are the ones who make their living by touching something. That is, healing, building, fixing, growing, organizing, and making things. With this in mind, the school district would be far better off giving each kid a tool kit, a community project, and a detailed lesson in financial management.

What we know is the most interesting and fulfilled adults are often the ones who have overcome great adversity and started off with little. What do they have? Passion, vision, timing. And most of all, persistence and the willingness to work hard and take risks.

This top private school has spent considerable time developing an ethics program. They care very deeply about the character of each student. They place students into very good colleges, including the Ivy Leagues. Many have gone on and will continue to do so to write books, found non profit organizations, lead corporations and be innovators in established and new fields. If they have done all of this without requiring laptops for every students, then we shouldn’t see them as a classroom necessity either.

Fullerton Parents and Teachers Confirm Laptop Porn is Widespread

Back in September we published a mothers’ letter accusing the Fullerton School District of ignoring the pornography problem on school-issued laptops. At the time, the school district responded to the an OC Register reporter by claiming that this was the “first reported case of a student using the laptops to log on to pornographic sites”.

Today we know that statement is a flat-out lie.


I have been contacted by numerous parents and several FSD teachers who were each directly involved with cases where school children used their laptops to view pornography or chat with strangers online. Some had grade-school children who became addicted to pornography, while others were teachers who dealt with these issues on a regular basis in the classroom.

Witness one post by and FSD teacher to our blog following the OC Register story:

I am a Fullerton Elementary school teacher and a parent of elementary school children who have been a part of the laptop program. First, I am aware of numerous children who have accessed inappropriate sites and viewed illicit images while using their school issued laptops. Furthermore, we discovered inappropriate material on our son’s laptop. For those of you who would blame this on “bad parenting” get your heads out of you a#%! These are curious adolescents, who if given the opportunity, will venture into areas they shouldn’t go. In giving these laptops to children to take home and expecting them to refrain from inappropriate sites is equivalent to putting dirty magazines in a young boys closet but telling him to not look at them. When not monitored (and what parent can do this 24/7 ?) they will act on their curiosity. Unfortunately, this can lead to emotional, psychological and even physical harm through sexual predators who are just looking for an opportunity to catch a young child who has wandered into the dangerous world of the internet.

To the mother of the daughter who was caught up in this unfortunate situation please be encouraged. What others may mean for harm God can use for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28). May you and your daughter experience His all-sufficient grace! (2 Cor. 12:8)

It is clear that many parents are not monitoring their childrens’ use of the laptops, finding it impossible to watch them twenty four hours a day. For those super parents who disagree, please think about all of those open wireless networks across the street of your school or on your child’s way home. In this day of dual-income and single-parent families, how many children are left alone on the Internet under the guise of doing their homework? Are most parents technically adept enough to even recognize a problem when it occurs?

The prevalence of pornography on school laptops is a direct result of the district downplaying and misrepresenting the laptop safety issue to parents. Unfortunately, many children are being permanently harmed by the district’s failure to address the problem.

The FSD Laptop Program: Breaking it Down


“To be effective in the 21st century, the Fullerton School District believes that students must be able to develop innovative products and processes using technology, construct knowledge and demonstrate creative thinking.”

Mitch Hovey, Ed.D.

Our previous posts on FSDs Laptop Program have generated a wide array of commentary, some of which has been a bit off the mark relative to the specific posts. So we thought a general recap of problematic issues might be timely at this juncture.

  • Parents were being coerced into participating in the program
  • The laptops are way too expensive
  • Laptops are being lost and or stolen
  • FSD claimed the laptops were secure
  • The value of laptops in education is overrated

If anybody wishes to add items or to dispute them – fire away!

OC Register Digs Into FFFF’s School Laptop Post, Misses the Point

OC Register Front Page - Saturday September 19, 2009

The OC Register ran a story today on our previous laptop post in which a mother came forward to warn parents about the dangers of FSD’s school laptop program.

Overall the reporter gave a fair assessment to both sides of the controversy, although the article made the mother out to be naive about her duties as a parent to watch her children closely. Those who actually read the mother’s statement on this blog know this to be completely false.

The mother accepted responsibility for wrongly believing the school administrators when they told her that the laptops were safe. In her own words:

I felt stupid for being so naïve in thinking that a child should have a laptop with access to whatever she could dream of. I felt safe in believing that a school district would have the best firewalls to protect my child like they promised that firewalls do. I do believe that parents have a responsibility to watch over their children, and this generation requires a new kind of vigilance, but I also believe that a school has the responsibility to be honest in their abilities to protect our children as well.

Had the district been truthful about the risks associated with the laptops, perhaps this incident could have been avoided. This tragedy acts as yet another example of government employees and electeds distorting or concealing the truth to further their own personal agendas, to the detriment of the public whom they are supposed to serve.

Bottom line: These laptops are not safe for kids to use without direct supervision at all times. That includes all the kids accessing neighborhood wireless on the playground, in front of school, at the bus stop,  at Starbucks or in their own bedrooms. So now the question is, how does a parent monitor a kid with a laptop 24/7?

For most parents, it’s nearly impossible.

School Laptops Help Children Find Pornography and Meet Sexual Predators

At the urging of Fullerton police, a mother sent us this chilling story of her 11 year old girl who was nearly lured into a meeting with a suspected sexual predator after spending months chatting with him on a school laptop. School district employees deceptively promised parents that the laptops were safe when they required parents to purchase them, ignoring evidence that abuse of the laptops is prevalent throughout all grade levels. Many other children have been harmed by the 1:1 Laptop Program, but this is the first time that a parent has had the courage to come forward with the truth.

What I am about to share is very personal, and something that I’ve feared sharing for months now. You see, my children are transfer students, and I’ve feared that our transfer for next year would be denied if I spoke up, or that my children would be humiliated from the publicizing of this. I’ve been afraid that somehow the message that I want to convey would be torn apart and somehow I would be accused of poor parenting. Regardless of my fears of discrimination or criticism I am coming forward because I feel that it’s my duty, as a parent, to warn other parents of the very real danger that exists for our children.

My daughter was a sixth grade student at Golden Hill Elementary School last year for the 2008-2009 school year. The parents of incoming 6th graders attended a meeting, prior to the school year starting, about the laptop program. We basically voted whether or not we wanted to participate in the program. It was my understanding that if I did not want my daughter to participate I could send her to one of the surrounding schools that was not participating in the program. Due to the fact that she was a transfer student, my husband and I did not want to transfer her out, as we felt that the other schools in our area were not, let’s just say, as nice of schools as Golden Hill. We agreed to the program because we felt that we had very little choice, and signed the appropriate paperwork to begin leasing our daughter’s very expensive laptop that we really couldn’t afford.

Parents were encouraged to ask questions after the presentation. Topics about internet safety were brought up, and the parents were told that many state of the art firewalls were in place. If a child were to search an inappropriate topic they would immediately find out about it and the child would be questioned. They said that a tech person from the district would come in regularly, if not every week, and randomly check the computers for such material, or to do repairs on the laptops as needed. I can honestly say that when the school principle and district technology and media rep stood up there and told me this, I believed them.

In the beginning of January, 3 ½ months into the school year, I checked my daughter’s email and found incoming emails that warranted suspicion. After further investigation of the emails I found out that my daughter was able to access pornography and that she was chatting with adult men online. She used her school laptop to access a pornographic website, from her bedroom at night, using the neighbor’s unsecured wireless. What I did not find out until later was that she was making plans to meet one of the men that she had met online. In the 3 ½ months that this was happening neither the school nor the district was alerted by her inappropriate web usage from her school laptop.

Looking back I can remember when I picked my kids up after school I often saw 6th graders, with their laptops open outside of the houses that surrounded Golden Hill. They were accessing unsecured wireless too. I wonder what they were accessing outside before and after school that they weren’t allowed to access at home. My daughter told me that many of the students had found pornography on their school laptops with ease.

I took the laptop to the Fullerton School District to be searched by the Technology and Media Assistant Director Sam Ricchio. I was so angry. I asked him how it was possible for her to get onto such websites if there were so many firewalls in place. I wanted to know why they weren’t notified right away like they promised us that they would be if such searches were occurring. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any answers for me. He searched her computer for days before calling me and recommending that I take it to the police for a more detailed search.

I took the laptop to the Fullerton Police Department. They were successful at doing a forensic search on the computer. They told me that she was in fact chatting online using Yahoo Chat. They tried to send a warrant to Yahoo to get the records of the chat sessions, but because Yahoo purges the chats so quickly, it’s not possible to get the records. Since there were no records, no crime was committed and the case was closed. A month after everything with my daughter was revealed; the Fullerton Police Department came to Golden Hill and taught on internet safety.

The school had a meeting at the end of the year for the parents of graduating 6th grade students. Parents were given the option to keep the laptop or to turn it in. We were encouraged to keep the computer because “It’s still a great computer with incredible firewall protection for your child. If your child looks up the word, say, ‘breast cancer’, it’ll be flagged.” My husband was so appalled by this that he approached the principal, Robert Johnson, and the district Technology and Media Director, Ted Lai, afterwards to confront them on the lack of truth in what was being promised. Ted Lai said, “Your daughter is a brilliant hacker, and her situation is a one in one million case.” It’s unbelievable that he would rather make sensational claims and accusations instead of recognizing the huge gaping flaw in the laptop program, which is lack of safety for our children. I called the detective who handled our case, and I told him what Ted Lai said. He sounded shocked at what he heard, and assured me that he never said anything like that to the principal or Fullerton School District. He said that it was far from a one in a million case, and that a similar thing happened to a child who attended a neighboring junior high, only she actually got in the vehicle with the predator.

Sam Ricchio recommended that I take all laptops and computer cords into my bedroom at night for safekeeping. He does the same thing in his own home. Our daughter no longer has private computer access, and my neighbor has secured her wireless. I felt stupid for being so naïve in thinking that a child should have a laptop with access to whatever she could dream of. I felt safe in believing that a school district would have the best firewalls to protect my child like they promised that firewalls do. I do believe that parents have a responsibility to watch over their children, and this generation requires a new kind of vigilance, but I also believe that a school has the responsibility to be honest in their abilities to protect our children as well. Let’s face it. Kids are kids. If you give them the key to unlock Pandora’s Box, they’re going to unlock it. It is unnecessary and unsafe for a child of any age to be given a laptop of their own.

My goal in coming forward with this story is to make parents aware that personal school laptops for children are not safe even though firewalls are in place, regardless of how much a child is supervised. Most children are not kept under constant surveillance by parents, caregivers, after-school programs, or even on school campuses. Seemingly innocent chat rooms are the hunting grounds for child predators, and the internet itself is filled with material that a child of any age should not have access to. This is not an isolated incident. This is not an outstanding circumstance or child. This can happen to your child or a child that you know. The police told me to consider myself lucky that I have my daughter with me, and that I did not have to identify her body from somewhere. They were right. I am lucky. Countless other families aren’t as lucky though. You can protect your children from what Fullerton School District believes is a safe and beneficial program. You can choose to NOT purchase a school laptop for your child, and to NOT support the laptop program.

Fullerton Parents Reject School Laptop Program

Click Here to View the Letter Mentioned in the OC Register


We were constantly told how wonderful the 1:1 Laptop program has been for the education of Fullerton school children, but something just didn’t smell right to us. Sure enough, we find out that many parents are finally saying “NO”. Resistance to the autocratic technology program has grown drastically in the last 6 months. After having a taste of the laptop program, parents at Golden Hill Elementary strongly rejected the continuance of the program at their school.

A report from the school district shows that Golden Hill parents failed to meet the 90% “willingness” threshold that is required for the laptop program to be continued. Despite ominous threats of moving children to an inferior school if the parents did not respond the survey “correctly”, only 51% of parents volunteered to participate in the program. The threshold was put in place after the ACLU sued the school district for violating children’s Constitutional right to a free education several years ago. Many parents at both Hermosa Drive and Nicholas Jr. High rejected the program as well, but the school district found enough money to subsidize parts of the program anyway.

After years of congratulating themselves for this high-tech boondoggle, the stupefied school board could only muster up support to continue the program at a single school. That’s not good, and it’s only going to get worse now that the parents are catching on.

How much longer can the district afford to keep shoveling money into the laptop pit as teachers are laid off and struggling parents stop paying their bills?

What will parents do when they find out how unsafe these Internet-ready laptops really are?

Stay tuned…

Fullerton School District Fires Teachers, Buys 350 Laptops

Fullerton School District just approved the purchase of 350 new laptops for the floundering 1:1 Laptop program. Meanwhile, the school district has laid off 122 teachers and staff this year.

A few months back we discussed how parents are coerced into buying these overpriced Apple computers for $1,500 each, or else their child will be forced to attend another school. We have also confirmed that many of the laptop loans made to parents by the district have gone bad, sending families into bankruptcy and requiring an additional $120,000 in funding from generous but naive donors. The loans that these parents are forced into will continue to sour in this economy, which means even more indebtedness for the school district.

Furthermore, parents taking the so-called laptop survey are increasingly turning against the program, despite the threatening manner in which the survey is administered. The survey ominously indicates that answering incorrectly will result in one’s child being deported to another school against the child’s will.

Lest you think we’re making this up, here is a clip from an actual Fullerton School District presentation:

This entire catastrohpe was nothing more than a resume-padding excercize for former District Superintendent Cameron McCune. The 1:1 Laptop program needs to be scrapped immediately. Unfortunately for parents and children, Bevery Berryman is the only school board member wise enough to see past the chirade.

School District Still Forcing Parents to Buy $1,500 Apple Laptops

As another school year comes to an end, the Fullerton School District is telling parents that it’s time to pay $1,500 for a brand new laptop for each of their children. Included in the presentation is a reminder that if they don’t get a laptop, the school district will ship their children off to a lesser school under the premise that they must have 100% participation to continue the laptop program.

First, a little background — this little shakedown started as the brainchild of Fullerton School District Superintendent Cameron McCune, with the assistance of board member Hilda Sugarman. McCune had grandiose visions for his future career as an educational consultant, and he figured the best way to make himself popular was to manufacture a “digital revolution” and give away computers to every child in Fullerton.

Hey kids, everybody got a laptop? OK, building clear.
Hey kids, everybody bought a laptop right?

Predictably, there was no money in the district budget for thousands of new computers, so McCune and Sugarman led the school board to ask the parents to pay for new computers themselves. At $1,500 a piece, that wasn’t going to be an easy sell. Just as they were about to give up, the perennial big-government solution presented itself  – COERCION. The board decided that they could help Apple extort $1,500 from every parent using the threat of forced student relocation for non-participating parents.

There was a mother in Fullerton named Sandy Dingess with four children who now “needed” laptops to attend school. Being wary of disclosing private financial details in the required paperwork,  Sandy called the ACLU, who then sued the school board. In the ACLU’s words “the Program plainly violates the free school guarantee under the California Constitution”. A lengthy battle of legal letters ensued, with school board caving in and allowing a small number of parents to opt for a $65/yr insurance premium instead of an outright purchase. Obviously the Constitution was still being violated, but it was enough of a victory for the ACLU to back down.

In the end, three of Sandy’s children were forced to move to another school because they could not afford laptops.

For those of you who don’t believe that the school district would participate in such thuggery, here is a clip of this year’s presentation from the District’s technology director:

So what can the victims do today to stop this expensive charade? When the 1:1 Laptop Program survey comes to your school, you will be presented with four options…. the first two leave you with a hefty bill. The opt-out choice will allow the school to ship your kid off to a location of their choosing. The “insurance only” option is obviously the way to go, as it forces the school to procure a laptop for your child even though they still take $65 from you. Remember that this will be a high-pressure sale, as the district can only afford to purchase laptops for 10% of the students. If there are more requests for laptops, the 1:1 program could be in jeopardy at that school, which cuts into Apple’s bottom line. But do not be swayed –  let the school know that you will not be forced into participating in this high-tech boondoggle.

As Fullerton teachers and parents are losing their jobs, the district is attempting to expand this expensive program into new grade levels. It’s time to let them know that we cannot afford it.