ORANGE, Calif. - The ACLU of Southern California and the Fullerton School District announced an agreement today that will ensure equal access to a public school program that requires certain students and their families to purchase laptop computers.

The settlement, which was announced after four months of talks, will allow parents at the 20 schools in the Fullerton district to choose whether or not a school should participate in the Laptops for Learning Program. If a majority of families decide to implement the program at a particular school, parents may either pay nearly $1,500 for a Macintosh G4 laptop or they will be able to borrow one from the district.

Hector Villagra, director of the ACLU of Southern California's Orange County office, said modifications to the existing program ensure that it is fair and equitable.

"We're pleased to have worked out a way for families to participate fully in the laptop program even if, for whatever reason, they choose not to buy computers," Villagra said.

Under the settlement, the program can be initiated if the total number of families that voluntarily lease computers through lease/purchase agreements, those that qualify to buy computers through grants, and those loaned computers purchased by the school with federal, state and local funds, not including the district's general fund, equals 90 percent. The district will then provide the remaining 10 percent of students with computers to borrow. Students will have equal access to computers during the school year regardless of whether they purchased or borrowed them.

Several parents alerted the ACLU about the program, concerned that the fee for computers violated the state constitutional guarantee of a free public education. The parents filed suit in Orange County Superior Court Thursday morning and will seek court approval of the proposed settlement. The settlement also creates a fund for parents seeking reimbursement for past participation in the program. The Orange County Superior Court will oversee the settlement for the next five years.

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