Office of Digital Learning
District obligation to provide instructional supplies, including tablets and computers
ESE has received a number of questions related to whether Massachusetts public schools may require students to purchase tablets or computers. Generally speaking, public schools may not charge a fee for students to enroll or to participate in required or elective courses given for academic credit. Under Chapter 71, Section 48 of the Massachusetts General Laws, school districts must purchase at public expense textbooks and other instructional materials and supplies intended for use and re-use over a period of years. Districts then in turn "loan" those instructional materials free of charge to students, who must return them at the end of the school year.
The exception to this general rule is consumable supplies - those supplies that typically are used up by students during the course of the year. Schools may ask students to supply their own notebooks or binders, papers, pencils and pens, and tissues. ESE does advise schools to keep these types of consumable materials on hand so that students who do not have such supplies will not miss any instruction.
In contrast, costly tools such as a tablet or other computer or graphing calculator fall in the category of instructional materials and supplies that, similar to textbooks, are intended for schools to purchase and use and re-use over a period of years. If such technology is required, the school may encourage each student to purchase these devices. Students are likely to do so because they may need those devices for future classes and other use outside of school. We advise schools to be prepared to provide such devices free of charge to students whose families do not choose to buy them or cannot afford to do so. If students need such devices to complete out-of-school assignments, schools must provide that access.