After Orange County Public Schools students and parents raised questions about fines they received related to damage to district-issued laptops, district officials now say they plan to revamp the digital devices reimbursement schedule for upcoming school years.
In an email sent out to all OCPS principals, assistant principals, school and internal bookkeepers, and media specialists, district officials said it will initiate a process to wipe out all unpaid student fines and offenses from Archibus for Fiscal Year 2022 and prior.
“This one-time event will start all schools and students with a clean slate for the new fiscal year,” officials said in the email.
District 4 OCPS School Board Member Pam Gould said she and other board members received recently an influx in parent questions about the devices after the Observer published a story about the concerns after conducting local parenting forums and research in its May 26 edition.
“The computers have given us the ability to Flex education and also build engagement in other ways, but they are a lot of responsibility, and it takes all of us taking care of them to make sure we can keep them up,” Gould said.
The process will begin Friday, July 1, with a new district process for all unpaid student fines.
According to OCPS, beginning in 2023, the district will collect, from school budgets, any unpaid fine balance for the current fiscal year during the carryover process in July and the beginning of August. In addition, after collection, all previous fines and offenses for a student will be reset to no amount due in the system. This applies for grades five, eight and 12 from all schools.
For grades kindergarten through fourth, sixth, seventh and ninth through 12th, all fines that were not collected and not paid by a student who left their school will be wiped out at the end of each year. The district said the student offense count will remain intact.
In addition, fines from the fiscal year that were not collected and not paid by a student who stayed at their school will remain untouched. OCPS said schools can continue to seek payment from their students on a fine generated at their school.
“This process ensures the fine balances in Archibus reflect only student balances that are currently enrolled at the school,” OCPS said in the email.
In terms of a revised reimbursement schedule, Lorena Arias, assistant director of media relations at OCPS, said there is a plan in place to distribute brand-new devices for all secondary students for the 2022-23 school year.
She said the same device will stay with each student all through middle school, where they will then receive another new device through high school — although officials said this will not include new schools built in the last two years.
Michael Ollendorff, manager of media relations at OCPS, said the estimated cost for the districtwide student device refresh is $56 million over the next four years, with the new middle and high school device being a Dell 3120.
As far as the old devices, Ollendorff said if the devices are deemed functional, they will be set aside as loaners when new devices require diagnostic assistance or repair.
“As has been OCPS standard practice, the repair vendor uses parts from the non-functional devices to help fix other devices in need of repair,” he said. “This results in some savings in repair.”
OCPS said during the past three school years, 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21, the average fines collected were about $459,000 per year. For the 2021-22 school year, $14,579,238 in non-recurring district capital dollars and $12,351,358.65 from ESSER II dollars were allocated for devices.
Arias said the fines are used to help cover the district’s repair costs for damaged student devices.
The district said to protect the taxpayer investment, a reimbursement structure was put in place when it started the digital initiative.
For the first occurrence, the fine is the actual cost of repair or replacement with up to a $50 maximum. The second occurrence is the actual cost of repair or replacement with up to $100 maximum. The third occurrence is the actual cost of repair or replacement with no cap.
Arias shared that the vast majority of families had to pay between $50 and $100 in fines.
Because many parents have expressed concerns as to the expectations and conditions of the devices, the district has said the devices must power on, successfully charge, have no cracks in the screen or body damage, have working power and volume buttons, have a working microphone, have an Archibus label or serial number, have no breaks inside the headphone jack, have no missing or damaged keys, and have no decorative stickers.
Last week, Ollendorff said the district had paused collection to run end-of-the year processes within the asset management system.
“During this pause, the end-of-year process includes a review of the reimbursements assessed,” he said. “Select refunds have already been provided to students who paid the full cost of device replacement.”
After a local parent asked questions of Gould in terms of the devices, Kelly King, senior specialist at OCPS who aids Gould, said last week Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins directed schools to stop collecting and assessing device fines.
Christie Moody, media specialist for OCPS, also confirmed this fact to a parent in an email.
In addition, Jenkins also asked that those students who were fined this year be reviewed, as some of those who were fined may be eligible for a refund.
Those who have additional questions should contact Senior Director of Finance Catherine Nguyen Schuessler, [email protected]; or Senior Director of Digital Learning Maurice Draggon, [email protected].