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EdTech Update




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Harsh? Your policy on computer accidents?

Here's a e-mail question I got this week:

Ethical/upkeep senario for you. Teacher has a laptop from school. The teacher knocks water onto the keyboard zappying the logic board. My boss is charging the teacher for the repair. The teacher is burning my boss in effigy in front of everyone in that school for the charge. I think my boss is in line. Just wondering how you would handle it. Are we too harsh here?

And my response:

As mad as it sometimes makes me, I try to take the high road and accept accidents happen to everyone. We always assume that professionals take professional care of equipment and repair without question. At least the first time (or two.)
What do you think? Any good rules of thumb for who pays for repairs in your school? If a teacher got into an accident with a school vehicle would he/she be responsible for repairs? Is saving a dollars in a repair budget worth engendering ill will from the entire teaching staff?



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Reader Comments (13)

I have never liked charging teachers because it creates an incentive for dishonesty. Dog knocks it off table onto patio, teacher pays. "A student knocked it off my desk" a school, district pays. Of another way to look a to, teachers wo do the right thing and own up to the accident end up on the hook for the cost.
And there are always extenuating circumstances which mean that someone will end up paying a bill while the next one won't.

Several years ago, my district instituted a practice with the hope of creatIng peer pressure to encourage taking care of equipment. We provide each school with a small number of what we call "discretionary" laptops. These become a replacement pool for damaged laptops. More importantly, they are of value to the building because, at the principal's discretion, they can be loaned to a sub for the day, or to a student teacher or teacher's aid, or even fo a teacher who left theirs at home.

A teacher baptizes their laptop, we pull one from the building's discretionary set, and there is now one less for them to use. If the building is not OK with that and wants to be made whole, then I buy a replacement using the building's modest repair budget. So it's a trade-off they have control over. The final trade-off is that at the end of the year, they can use leftover repair money for other tech purchases.

But does it work, you ask? I don't really know. I instituted the practice when I came to the district several years ago and they hadnt kept close track prior. By and large, our teachers take care of the equipment so there wasn't a huge problem to begin with. For me, the most important thing is that we have eliminated the backwards incentives that existed before.

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom Donovan

I would say that's the price of doing business. I have a teacher who checks out many book/tape sets for listening centers and they often come back mangled or missing parts. It's obviously not her but her poor supervision of the students leading to this situation. But these item are for everyone and I'd rather they be circulated and chance damage than be some kind of checkout Nazi/gatekeeper. I haven't said anything to her but I'm not rushing out to replace these items.

If the admin thinks the teacher was at fault, they should just not rush out to give her a new laptop. Make her use the classroom desktop instead if they want to be harsh about it, I suppose. But as I said, they are providing these machines and should expect some damage to occur occasionally. Don't buy them if you can't afford the upkeep.

Or they could make their damage/replacement policy more clear upfront. Although that could backfire on them. My wife taught in a district and when they first gave out laptops it was ridiculous. They told the teachers they were responsible for repairs or theft and they *had* to keep the laptops in a lock doohickey that the teachers were expected to go out and buy to keep the machines secure! Most teachers just locked up the laptops and hardly used them. What a waste.

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

This hits close to home this week. One of my guidance counselors closed her laptop and didnt notice that there was a paperclip between the keys and screen. It punctured the screen and the district is charging her $250. This is a woman that is above a professional, kind to all, in her 30th year with the district and is retiring in six weeks. I just feel like they are burning good will to push a point.

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

I don't believe my tech people would require me to pay for the equipment. But I would WANT to. I can't believe you wouldn't feel that it is your responsibility to pay for that repair or replacement.

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnnette

I think that "stuff" happens... sometimes. As Annette says, I'd want to pay, but I know people who can't or don't feel they should because it's not their property, it's the school's.

Having said that, I worked with someone who went through a laptop a year (the cat... her coffee... it got dropped... etc.). There was never a charge but I did wonder if there should have been one, if only to suggest that she be a bit more responsible with her equipment.

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I agree with Doug that we need to treat people as professionals unless they give us reasons not to. Accidents happen. Fortunately, that's the policy taken by our school district and, unless there is clear evidence of negligence, damaged equipment is routinely taken care of by our IT staff. Even in the case of a laptop that fell off a third story balcony onto concrete: :-)

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim Stahmer

My district does it by campus. I had an Ipad screen broken. My options are to put it through the school system, if my principal has the money ($110). That will take 3 weeks, now 4 because he wasn't ready this week when our CITS was here. So I'm paying myself. I can get the same discount. Actually I could legally take my own ipad, or Iphone in and get it fixed at the discount. I use these every day with my kids, I really can't go 4 weeks waiting for it to get fixed - and what if he hasn't made a decision by next Thursday? Then I'm stuck waiting again.

May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

Charging the teacher for the loss is out of line. Employees are not personally liable for accidents in the workplace, unless clear neglect or dereliction of duty can be show, and is not the case in this example.

May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Downes

I wandered over to education from medicine. In my prior life, pretty much any portable tool you use regularly on the job was bought by the one who used it. Yes, we all needed stethoscopes, no, we didn't agree which one was best--you got the tool you thought worked best for the job at hand.

Plumbers, carpenters, bee keepers, farmers, and just about anyone else with a tad of autonomy does the same thing. The process of choosing the specific kind of tool you will use is part of professionalism.

So yeah, a laptop is part of the cost of doing business, but it's also part of the cost of being a professional.

May 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Doyle

Hi Tom,

Interesting plan. Unofficially, we do something similar. We keep some crappy old laptops for teachers to use while theirs are being repaired. And it always takes longer than one would think to get a machine back from the shop. We talk about logical consequences for students. Why not for staff as well?

Appreciate the comment,


Hi Ninja,

Yeah, I've never owned a personal computer for more than a couple weeks before it has some dings, scratches and dents in it. All a part of something wearing out. And I've accidentally spilled water on my keyboard - which for me was a $1300 mistake. Maybe my empathy for teachers stems from my own clumsiness?


Hi Brad,

I'd agree. I don't know of any teacher who would deliberately break anything. When doubt, give the benefit of the doubt, I'd say. (As would the Department of Redundancy Department.)


Hi Annette,

While I admire your sense of responsibility, my experience is that you are in the minority. Most people, not just teachers, would expect the place of work to cover damages to work equipment if it was accidental and being used for work purposes. As you can tell by all the comments this post has elicited, there's NO clear consensus!

Thanks for viewpoint,


Hi Laura,

You've hit on my pet peeve - those folks who seem to always be having accidents. I am pretty compassionate about damage the first couple of times, but I there are chronic equipment abusers. Maybe the "give them junk" and take a long time for their machines to be fixed technique might work?



I liked the photo but the comment was even better. It would have fallen apart sooner or later anyway!


Hi Kimberly,

First I've heard of a building-based repair budget. Interesting. Maybe you need to get a spare so you can send the school's equipment in on its timeline?


Hi Stephen,

This seems to be just one more case where for some reason technology is treated differently from other property. If a leg come off the chair in my office, am I expected to pay for the replacement? Absurd!


Hi Michael,

When teachers first started using computers in our district, we had an active debate on if they should be provided by the school or the teacher. A board member cited dentists, mechanics and lawn service people as examples of professions who all were expected to provide their own sets of tools.

Yet I am not aware of a banker, a salesman or a legislator who is expected to provide his/her own computer. Maybe the division is between self or contract employed people and those with regular jobs?

Oh, if I had to stick my computer in my ears, I'd probably provide my own.



May 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I bet the division is more between those who need to finesse their tools for the job at hand and those that don't.

The sad thing is that many teachers do not realize what the newer tools can do when used right--if they did, they might have a better argument for iPads than "Oooh, shiny, shiny!"

(I'm not saying that iPads aren't the bee's knees--but I am saying that most of the discussion I hear in the lunge about this or that technology has more to do with the machine than with what it's supposed to accomplish. Which may be exactly why school districts need to buy the tools...*sigh*)

May 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Doyle

I hear the term professional used a lot. Is it professional to rip someone in front of all their colleagues because they're being charged for a repair?

How is it fair or financially sustainable to charge students for an accident with a device (we're going 1:1 with iPads next year) but not a teacher? I'm not saying we're right...I just want to know other's opinions?

May 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Hi Nathan,

Great points to consider. Thanks!


May 9, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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