ORANGE, Calif. - The Orange County Branch of the ACLU of Southern California sent a letter to the Fullerton School District after receiving complaints about a district program that requires parents to purchase expensive laptop computers for their children so they can fully participate in class.

In a letter to the district on behalf of parents with children in the district, Orange County Office Director Hector Villagra wrote: the "Laptops for Learning Program, which has been implemented at various grade levels in four district schools, requires the payment of fees in order for students to participate. We write to you because the program plainly violates the free school guarantee under the California Constitution, which forbids the imposition of fees for educational activities offered by public school districts."

Parents like Sandra Dingess, who has five adopted children in the district, must pay nearly $1,500.00 in order to purchase a laptop computer, warranty, insurance, and computer case costs so her children can participate fully in class.

"At my children's school there really isn't any difference between not having a textbook and not having a computer," said Dingess, who has since enrolled three of her children in Fullerton schools not participating in the program. "I don't expect the school district to give my children a computer, but I do expect the school district to loan them. It's unfair when all kids don't have the same opportunities to learn, and it's stigmatizing for the kids who don't have the laptops."

As a part of a pilot program, students at four Fullerton School District in grades two through eight are using Macintosh iBook G4 computers at school and home. This year, the second year of the program, students in several other elementary and junior high schools are using laptops in the classroom. Teachers and parents at the schools estimate about 50 percent of class is conducted with the aid of a computer. Students without are asked to look over the shoulder of a neighbor.

"We understand the importance of providing technology access to students, but this is a huge burden for many parents," Villagra said. "Many parents simply cannot afford a $1,500 laptop for their young student. We've heard from parents who are upset that their children will not be able to fully participate in class if they don't have the computer and one parent who had to transfer her children to another public school because the cost is too great."

The district has until Friday, November 11 to respond to the letter.

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