EAST CHICAGO | School administrators took back Wednesday MacBook laptops they had given to middle and high school students 10 months ago.

East Chicago Central High School senior Orlando Navarro, 18, said students were called to the auditorium by class and were asked to surrender their laptop computer. Those students who did not have their computers with them were escorted home by an East Chicago police officer to get them, he said.

"We have projects to do. We need our laptops," said Navarro, who added students received no warning the computers were being taken away.

School City of East Chicago administrators began a plan last fall to put an Apple MacBook into the hands of students in grades five through 12. The $4.2 million technology plan called for the purchase of more than 2,200 laptops, including a technology upgrade throughout the school buildings.

Teachers and administrators received laptops last fall, and students received them in January. The MacBooks are valued at about $1,200 each.

Almost since the laptops were passed out, dozens of East Chicago students reported their shiny new MacBooks had been stolen or lost. A GPS device on the MacBook indicated that at least one of them was located in Mexico last school year. An East Chicago police report a few weeks ago indicated another was purchased by a Munster resident on Craigslist. 

Most recently, an 18-year-old Harvey, Ill., man was charged with armed robbery for allegedly threatening to shoot two students walking home from Central if they did not give up their laptops.

School City of East Chicago spokeswoman Kim DeCero released a statement Wednesday, saying:

"It has recently come to the attention of the School City's administration that there are potential safety risks associated with students being outside of school with a laptop computer. With our greatest priority being the safety of our students, the School City of East Chicago aims to eliminate that potential safety risk by keeping all laptop computers at school for daily use in the classrooms. As of today, Wednesday, November 9, SCEC-owned computers will be available for students to use within the safety of their school only. Students will have access to a Mac laptop computer every day in the classroom to use as required or needed to advance their education."

Parents Denice Jones and LuLu Hicks said they don't like the way the East Chicago school officials handled the issue. They said they received no advance warning that students needed to bring the laptops back to school.

Hicks said she received a call at 2:40 p.m. Wednesday from the school principal saying the laptops would be collected that day. Jones said she did not give anyone permission to take her daughter off school grounds.

Parents were required to attend a series of meetings earlier this year to provide identification and residency information to get the laptops. As a parent, Jones said she was responsible for the laptop, and school administrators should have contacted her in advance to ask that it be returned.

Hicks said both her daughters contacted her, and she told them to remain at school and she would pick up the laptops and bring them in.

"I told them they don't have to get into a police car unless they have been charged with a crime. I told them to stay at school. This is ridiculous. It is completely unacceptable," she said. "I don't blame the Police Department. I blame our school system."

While East Chicago has been plagued with problems involving its take-home computer program, Munster Assistant Superintendent Richard Sopko said they have not had any issues.

"We've had some that were damaged, but the kids have been pretty responsible," he said.

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