The case against the “Kutztown 13”–a group of Pennsylvania high school students charged with felonies for tinkering with their school-issued laptop computers–seems to be ending mostly with a whimper.

In meetings with students in late August, the Berks County, Pa., juvenile probation office has quietly offered the students a deal in which all charges would be dropped in exchange for 15 hours of community service, a letter of apology, a class on personal responsibility, and a few months of probation, the Associated Press reported.

“The probation department realizes this is small potatoes,” said William Bispels, an attorney representing nearly half the accused students.

The 13 initially were charged with computer trespass and computer theft, both felonies, and could have faced a wide range of sanctions, including juvenile detention.

The Kutztown Area School District said it reported the students to police only after detentions, suspensions, and other punishments failed to deter them from breaking school rules governing computer usage. (See story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=5820.)

But the students, their families, and outraged supporters around the nation said that authorities overreacted, punishing the kids not for any horrible behavior but because they outsmarted the district’s technology workers.

The trouble began last fall after the school district issued some 600 laptops to every student at the high school, about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Students easily breached security and began downloading forbidden internet programs, such as the popular iChat instant-messaging tool. Some students also turned off a remote monitoring function that let administrators see what students were viewing on their screens–or used the monitoring function to view administrators’ own computer screens.

School district officials and prosecutors did not return telephone messages left Aug. 25 and had not been heard from by press time.

In legal terms, the students have been offered an “informal adjustment”–the least severe form of punishment.

Mike Boland, who represents one student, said his client would accept the offer. “It doesn’t require my client to acknowledge he is guilty of anything,” he said.

One student who has had prior dealings with the juvenile probation office was not offered a deal. That case is expected to proceed.