Apple's US education sales team is reeling this morning following a decision by Henrico County's school board.

After a heated debate, the board voted unanimously to dump Apple in favour of Dell last night. The contract is worth $17 million and covers 15,800 laptops.

Apple has been supplying laptops to Henrico schools for four years; now Dell's taking over. This means thousands of US children in the state's education system will be swapping their iBooks for a Dell notebook.

The loss of Henrico as a client is a PR disaster for Apple, which attracted national publicity in May 2001 when it announced it had reached a deal with the school board to supply 23,000 iBooks to the district.

At that time, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said: “This is the mammoth–the single largest sale of portable computers in education ever.

"Apple is thrilled to partner with Henrico County Public Schools in their revolutionary initiative because when every student and teacher has access to wirelessly-networked mobile computing, learning reaches far beyond the classroom.”

Henrico County Public Schools superintendent warned the board in 2001, saying: “We chose Apple’s iBook because our experience has shown that it costs significantly more to support other platforms."

The board is reportedly to explain the decision during a press conference tonight.