Tech in Schools: RCSD responds to our FOIL request

In researching our series on technology in the classroom, reporter Mike Roppolo had some questions for the Rochester City School District for which only a FOIL request would provide answers. We’ve gotten those answers in an email from Debra Flanagan, which we will now pass along to you.

We noted in the original article that the school’s Code of Conduct had not been updated since 2009. This seems strange, giving the fact that the technology which is our focus has changed so much in the last three years. It’s hard to imagine that such an old policy could adequately cover this new technology.

Mrs. Flanagan responds that, while New York State requires codes of conduct to be reviewed every year, “districts are not required to update or amend it every year.” She notes that changes were made regarding students with disabilities this year. Why the publish date on the document is unchanged remains an open question. Moreover she states, well.. just read:

Not all changes in the District have to be incorporated into policy. Board policy is intended to provide overarching vision and guidance for RCSD, and the specifics as to implementation are contained in Superintendent regulations and/or written procedures. Superintendent regulation, “RCSD Regulations of Intervention and Discipline” (5300-R) implements provisions of the Code of Conduct; this regulation is listed directly below the Code of Conduct in the Table of Contents for Board policies.

So much for clarity. Apparently policy documents at the RCSD are like Russian tea dolls. But on the specifics of technology in the classroom, it seems clear that policy at RCSD is set in much the same fashion as other schools, with blanket policies that tacitly cover – but do not explicitly define – electronics outside of standard school equipment (em hers):

With regard to technology, the current Code of Conduct refers to inappropriate use of District equipment, email or Internet – this would apply regardless of the specific device used to transmit email or access the Internet (e.g. desktop, laptop, or tablet). In fact, this is stated in the Code of Conduct:
“Any direct or personal act or behavior which is prohibited under the Code is also prohibited when performed by use of computers, the Internet, cell phones, telephones or other communications media when the communication originates or ends on District property or at any school function, or may in the judgment of District officials disrupt or interfere with the educational process; or pose a threat to the safety of any person lawfully on District property or at a school function (p. 12)”

Two things worth noting in the above quote: first, “inappropriate use of District equipment” in no way covers use – appropriate or otherwise – of personal equipment. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the secondary distinction – that whatever incident took place on school grounds or at a school function – could possibly hold much water in a dispute.

But the second problem is: this policy concerns itself entirely and exclusively with what students should not do with technology, not what they should. And while fidgeting with a phone during class can easily be discouraged on any number of levels, the trouble with phones isn’t just that kids are using them to be disruptive: kids are also using them to communicate with parents and relatives. Where is the policy regarding these things?