With some concerns raised over the collection of insurance fees on Chromebooks at Brainerd High School, district administrators are willing to work with families that may be struggling.

All high school families were required to sign a usage guide at the beginning of the year upon picking up their Chromebooks, which were distributed to all BHS students this year as part of the district’s 1:1 technology initiative. They will keep the Chromebooks throughout their high school careers — including through the summer. A part of that usage agreement included a one-time insurance fee for each student. Fees amounted to $50 for freshmen, $40 for sophomores, $30 for juniors and $20 for seniors.

“We do the insurance fee based on their grade level when they enter the district, so we’re trying to really make it as fair as possible,” Sarah Porisch, director of technology, said Tuesday, May 12. “We knew that we didn’t want seniors to have to pay the whole $50 because they weren’t going to use it for four years.”

The insurance will cover the first repair needed on a Chromebook. Any subsequent damage will be charged to the student.

Insurance fees were not collected during Chromebook distribution last summer, Porisch said, because the district wanted to give families time to fill out free and reduced applications. Those who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program and filled out an application do not have to pay the insurance fees. A first notification went out to families last fall when the payment option was made available on Skyward. Porisch said a notice was sent out to those who had not yet paid later on in the school year. Another notice was sent out Tuesday reminding families fees are due by the end of June, and any outstanding fees after that date will be turned over to a collection agency. As of Tuesday, Porisch said “quite a few” students still had to pay the insurance fee, though it is fewer than half the high school students.

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The most recent notice raised concerns for a parent about families being turned over to collection agencies during a pandemic, along with questions about elementary and middle school families not having to pay insurance fees for the Chromebooks issues for distance learning.

Families of younger students had to sign a usage agreement when they picked up their Chromebooks. They were not charged insurance fees for the Chromebooks they used for distance learning during the final two months of the school year, but the agreement acknowledged families may be charged for damages.

“That was a totally different situation,” Porisch said. “That was a, ‘We need this for distance learning, and we only have a couple months, and we’re going to make this work.’”

As the district continues on with its 1:1 technology initiative and looks at the possibility of issuing Chromebooks to younger students in the future, the district plans to collect insurance fees from those who receive personal Chromebooks.

Porisch said payment plans during the school year were an option to pay for the insurance and encouraged any families who might be struggling with the fees to contact her. The free and reduced application is still an option as well and is open to families who meet specific income guidelines outlined by the Minnesota Department of Education. The most recent guidelines are available at https://bit.ly/2YZbZnt. Porisch said an extended deadline might be possible for those who need it, too.

“We’re always ready to work with people,” she said. “(We’re) trying to make sure that we’re taking care of families as much as we can, as always.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.