Not-So-Subtle Campaign to Pressure Parents to Cough Up for iPads

Update 5/30/2012: 

The Poway Unified School District and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Countiesresolved a thorny issue in which a district elementary school apparently pressured families to pay for iPads for their 4th and 5th grade students, in violation of the California Constitution.

As shown in a fruitful conversation between Superintendent John Collins and the San Diego ACLU’s legal director, David Loy, the district understands the issue of illegal school fees and will take appropriate action to prevent similar problems in the future. According to the district, the iPad program at Tierra Bonita Elementary School program will go forward.

The California Constitution restricts the imposition of fees for educational activities, saying that a public education should be free.

“We are delighted to resolve this problem constructively,” said David Loy, legal director for the San Diego ACLU. “If possible, we prefer to resolve matters without litigation, and we’re glad the district worked with us to address the needs of families in the district. The ACLU’s interest is to help our school districts provide the best possible education for children, consistent with California law.”


A Poway elementary school may be violating the California Constitution by pressuring parents to pay for equipping students with iPad devices even when other family priorities may take precedence.  As the California Supreme Court held almost 30 years ago, the state Constitution clearly prohibits public schools from charging fees for curricular programs like this.

The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties sent a demand letter to the Superintendent of Poway Unified School District asking for his intervention to ensure that Poway schools do not charge unconstitutional fees.  Tierra Bonita Elementary School recently circulated a “survey” to parents of all its 4th and 5th graders promoting a “1:1 iPad Program.”  The survey, which was not anonymous, gave families four options:

  1. Use an iPad or Android tablet already owned by the family.
  2. Buy a “district discounted” iPad for $379, plus warranty for $79, case for $25 and tax, all in one payment.
  3. Participate in a rent-to-own program for the same items with 10 monthly payments of $53 each.
  4. Borrow a district-owned device at no cost, returning it a the end of the school year, upon approval of a “confidential request form which will be reviewed by the principal.”

The survey declared, in bold type, “If more than 10% of our families require Option 4, the program will not be able to move forward.”  The principal then ramped up the pressure by emailing parents, “We are just 15 commitments away from being the first school in Poway to equip all students in 4th and 5th grade next year with a digital device… If you have not turned in a response, we need you … We are on our way with only 15 more option 1, 2, or 3 commitments needed to move forward” (emphasis in original).

“Taken as a whole, the survey and email clearly pressured families to pay for the iPad program. Intentionally or not, the school is dangerously close to charging an illegal fee. I’m sure the district wants the best for its students, and we sympathize with the budgetary problems all schools are facing,” said David Loy, legal director for the San Diego ACLU.  “But school finance problems can’t be solved by breaking the law. Schools are free to conduct truly voluntary fundraising, but they can’t pressure families to pay unlawful fees.”

The demand letter requests Superintendent John Collins’s immediate attention to resolving the problem.