By Jake Lawson
You or may not be surprised that equality, above all else, is the foundation of our laptop policy here at Sonoma Academy.
“Three years ago, when the technology task force met and specified a one-to-one laptop policy, they created it for three reasons. The first was equity of access, meaning everybody would have the same machine. It’s a leveling of the playing field, so to speak. There’s a strong sentiment about that amongst the faculty, and amongst our culture. We can’t control a lot of things in terms of equity, but it’s certainly one thing that we can,” said Dean of Student Life, Jason Gregory.
“The second reason would be that we provide an overarching tech support to students and faculty. We can’t troubleshoot if it’s all personal devices. The third thing would be content management. We need to have a bit of control over what’s on the laptops. If we had a ‘bring your own device’ policy, things like LanSchool (the program teachers use to view student’s screens from their own laptop) essentially wouldn’t exist.”
Obviously, there was quite a bit of thought that went into this policy, but there are quite a few students who are still not satisfied with it. Many students previously chose not to follow the policy by bringing their laptops from home, which, until recently, was effectively breaking school rules.
“There’s a lot of kids in my Economics class with PCs, and most of them have said they don’t like their computers,” said Junior Cristian Isbrandtsen. “From the Mac side, I bring my computer because it’s faster and easier for me to use for projects and stuff. I think for people with PCs, they would say they bring their laptops from home because [the PCs] are very inconvenient and the functionality is pretty bad.”
Senior Nora Brenner-West confirmed Cristian’s assumption about PC owners. “My computer’s broken more than my Mac ever did,” she said. “It’s always really slow, and they have these update things once or twice a month that are really annoying. I definitely don’t like it.”
All of these qualms with the current PCs begs the question: why did we, as a school, switch from Macs to PCs in the first place?
“There were two primary reasons,” said Director of Technology Sean Freese. “One was warranty; the Macs do not have accidental damage protection. You have to get it through a third party. Apple offers something for IOS devices (iPads and iPhones) that does cover accidental damage, but they don’t offer that on the laptops, and as a result, we had very expensive repairs.
“That was very frustrating for me to be in the position of having to tell students and families, especially in positions where I didn’t feel like it was the student’s fault, that we were bound by Apple’s very limited warranty and they had to pay it,” said Freese.
“The other reason is just sheer cost. The white Macbook was our ideal price point for what we were getting, and [Apple] got rid of it, so they don’t have that price point anymore.
“The entry level Macbook Air has a couple of problems, one being screen size, which we couldn’t really avoid, and the other being hard drive size,” Freese explained. “If we tried to increase all those things, go to a 13 inch laptop with a big enough hard drive for everything and have accidental damage protection, the price was going to increase hundreds and hundreds of dollars for every unit, so it was not sustainable. We couldn’t find a price point with Macs without significantly raising tuition or fees, neither of which we were willing to do.”
Unfortunately, the choice came down to PCs or demanding more money from families who are already paying a large sum of money to the school annually, and the switch was made.
However, while the laptops have changed, so too has the laptop policy. On November 5, Dean of Students Jason Gregory informed the student body via e-mail that the laptop policy had been altered to treat personal computers, tablets etc. the same way as cell phones, meaning that they were allowed on campus and were to be used during free periods, office hours and lunch periods.
This new rule serves to uphold the equity of computers in the classroom, while allowing students to use their “home devices” as they please during their free time.
However, this is not a be-all and end all solution. While disgruntled PC and Mac users alike now have the option to bring a computer from home and use it during designated times, there is still a large number of students who cannot afford a “better” laptop than their school-provided one, as well as students who believe that their personal computer should be allowed at all times.
“It’s a difficult question to answer,” said Gregory, “but when we created the technology use agreement and the one-to-one program, it was important that we adhere to the standards of why we created that program in the first place, and one of those standards is inclusivity.
“Whether you choose to agree with this or not doesn’t really matter,” he said. “It’s more about us, as an educational institution, choosing to preserve that inclusivity where we see fit, and technology is one of those places.
“There was a really strong belief behind why we created this policy in the first place, and as a school we’re going to stand behind that,” Gregory continued. “Extending beyond [the changes we’ve already made] would go against why the laptop program exists, and preserving the initial standard set is first and foremost.”