Rochester Technology

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?

Rochester Technology

Tech in Schools: Fairport Central Schools have robust network, but no BYOD policy

In a world where the effects of using technology in the classroom have increasingly become apparent, some local school districts in Rochester are preparing themselves for some big changes.

The Fairport Central School District is no exception.  With nearly 7100 students and 1800 students (presumably using these technologies) attending high school, they have had to make some changes in recent years.

Fairport High School

When it comes to technology and education, Fairport High School has made great strides over the years, including:

  • In 1996, the district was given permission to begin airing over the Freeport Area Community Television channel 12 (FACT-12).  The FHS Morning Show broadcasts every morning at 8:10am.
  • In 2009, Fairport High School began offering a course in game design and development, presumably one of the first schools to do so in New York State.
  • In 2010, the high school building was renovated to include 802.11n wireless networks for students and faculty, as well as high-speed fiber optic cables for wired computers.

Now, after working on it for two years, the district now has wireless in all district buildings (it has four elementary schools, three middle schools, and one high school).

Under the district’s current policy, students and faculty are only allowed access to this wireless network during the school day, with limited use after 3pm.  However, the district still allows 2.4ghz guest access in select areas of Fairport High School, available only during after school hours.

Access to the wireless network is still only for use with district-approved electronics.

BYOD Policy

As of 2011, when the district policy was last updated, many students will have to contend to what seems to be a limited use policy on cell phones and other devices.

Even so, there does not seem to be a district-wide policy regarding the use of cellphones and other personal electronics in the classrooms, according to the district code of conduct.  The only school that seemed to ban cell phones outright was Dudley Elementary School.  Students at Dudley are “not permitted to carry cell phones unless granted permission from the building principal. Permission will only be considered when extenuating circumstances warrant, again at the discretion of the building principal,” according to the school site.

“This is a topic that all schools locally and nationally are dealing with as the use of personal electronic devices grows exponentially.  The Board of Education Policy Committee is in the process of developing policies that address the use of personal electronics in our schools,” said Mary Jane Yarmer, the Communications Officer in the district, said in an email.

Balancing performance and guarantee quality for the students during the hours of instruction on devices offered through the district, such as computers.

“However, we are investigating the details surrounding BYOD design accommodations as we value increasing connectivity and access to digital resources as instructional support,” Yarmer added.

Rochester Technology

Tech in schools: Brighton’s progressive view of personal electronics

With technological advances and increasing numbers of students owning cellphones, school districts have had to begun to reevaluate or reinforce their current policy with stricter policies. With such constantly changing technology, is it becoming a waste of time for schools to constantly addressing changes and fighting a, seemingly, lost battle?

In comparison to other issues, like bullying, a student’s use of a cellphone during class is really insignificant. Instead of wasting the energy and time of school officials to change and enforce the electronics policies, why not begin to embrace the different gadgets and incorporate them into the classroom?

Students at Brighton High School are allowed to carry cellphones with them on school grounds. The devices also do not need to be locked in a student’s locker at the beginning of the day.

Brighton’s Code of Conduct states that electronic devices are not allowed to be used to: invade privacy, disrupt the academic setting or engage in any academic dishonesty. Of course, the code reminds students that bringing these devices on campus mean they are responsible for their “safe-keeping.”

Seemingly vague, the code actually leaves room for more freedom with electronic devices, specifically cellphones, than most other schools.

Students are actually allowed to use their cellphones in classrooms when it is appropriate, says assistant principal Michael Leiner.

“They can be used when it is constructive to the classroom, like fact checking. It’s good when students can look information up and contribute.,” said Leiner in a phone interview. The students also are allowed to use their cellphones in lunch and hallways

As assistant principal to Brighton High School, he also oversees disciplinary actions of 1/3 of the students. With the freedom the school’s policy provides, he sees very few cases of inappropriate use for cellphones.

“It’s just not on list of big issues we see when it comes to disciplinary problems and students making the wrong decisions,” he said.

With this approach to technology, the issue with abuse doesn’t seem to be a problem, allowing the student to use their phones takes away the thrill of doing it on the sly. Maybe then they will only use the phone when it’s needed or beneficial.

With this approach so successful on cutting down on disciplinary actions needed, it seems silly that other schools still remain so strict with their policies.

Similar to other schools, Brighton does not allow texting in class or using the phone to cheat on tests. If students are caught using the phones, they are subjected disciplinary action that could be anything from losing the phone to being suspended, depending on the severity of the disruption.

Rochester Technology

Technology in the classroom: how do local schools deal with personal electronics?

Making cellphones and other technology acceptable in school In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology released a National Technology Plan in the hopes of achieving President Obama’s goal that by 2020, “America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

The report stresses that students and educators should have “options for engaging in learning: large groups, small groups, and work tailored to the individual goals, needs, interests, and prior experience of each learner.” It also stressed the importance of utilizing technology, which will help to develop “inquisitive, creative, resourceful thinkers; informed citizens; effective problem-solvers; groundbreaking pioneers; and visionary leaders.”

Despite this national recommendation arguing for the inclusion of cell phones and other technologies in the curriculum, in a recent study released by Project Tomorrow, 55% of students polled nationwide said that they could not use their cell phones while in school. Some school districts in the Rochester area are no exception, as they remain against students having their cell phones (or any other personal electronic devices) in classrooms and on campus.

Rochester City School District

The Rochester City School District, which upon researching, had one of the strictest policies against cell phone usage in class. According to the RCSD Code of Conduct, disruptive behavior caused by students who are in found in possession of “laser pointers, pagers, beepers, walkie-talkies, or portable/cellular phones equipped with video or photographic capacity” on school property, may result in disciplinary actions, including suspension from school.

The Rochester City School District’s Code of Conduct does not appear to have been updated since November of 2009. We asked school officials why this was and if there were plans to update soon, but could not obtain an answer in time to publish. A FOIL request has been submitted for these answers, we will update our readers when we find out.

Some students in the Rochester City School District are not at all pleased with the ban or cellphones or the strict rules and enforcements on cell phone policy.

“I don’t really see the point,” said Gideon Kemp, a student at the Dr. Freddie Thomas High School. “I don’t think it helps anything; it just makes a bigger problem, in my opinion.”

“I listen to the rules and don’t bring my cellphone into school,” said Kemp. “But I don’t see the problem if I did.”

In an article by YNN, news students express their dislike of the cell phone bans, particularly talking about safety, but Edison Campus Principal Bonnie Atkins said that there has been a dramatic change in the culture inside the school.

“The school day is very different,” said Atkins, “Because you don’t have kids calling each other in and out of class, kids texting in class, the teacher spending more of the instructional time saying, ‘put it away or take it from the place to that place.’ Theft, we haven’t had a single incident of a cell phone being stolen at all, we haven’t had a single incident reported of cyber bullying during the school day because of that. You have your normal teenage problems during the school day. In other words, it gives the kids time to get the emotion out of it because they’re not all of a sudden angrily texting on the cell phone.”

Hilton School District

However, in the nearby Hilton Central School District, change is apparent. Originally against having students’ electronic devices in class, the high school recently adopted a policy that allowed students to have personal electronic devices out.

There are still some restrictions, as designated by a streetlight signal in each of the classrooms. According to the District website, there is a “red room,” in which no personal devices are allowed; a “yellow room,” in which some devices are allowed with an instructor’s permission; and a “green room,” which allows students to use personal devices as tools of learning.

Always evolving, the HCSD Code of Conduct has been changed several times over the past few years. The policy is always changing, as required by the NYSED, and will be reviewed at the May 8, 2012 meeting of the Board of Education, according to the Hilton Director of Communications and Community Education, Barbara Carder.

Gates-Chili Central Schools

A third path chosen by Gates-Chili School District is combining electronics policy with the rest of the school’s policies. There is no specific policy guiding the use of personal electronics, in fact, the Code of Conduct only specifies as “disorderly or disruptive” conduct as (section VII, 1.j):

Using/carrying cell phones, radios, pagers, walkmans, video recording devices, MP3 players, or other telecommunications or imaging devices during the instructional day except in such areas or at times specifically authorized by the building principal

On the other hand, GCS does a better job of explaining a three-step discipline process for those students who violate the code of conduct. And whereas other policies focus on students, GCS’s policy spells out – albeit in somewhat vague form – an acceptable use policy for faculty, parents, visitors and non-essential personnel.

DragonFlyEye.Net will continue to bring you comparisons of school policies around the area in the coming weeks. We’re also looking for local educator reactions to the state of technology in classrooms, which we will bring you as we get it. Is there a school whose policy you’d like us to review? An administrator you’d like us to contact? Leave us a note in the comments section or else contact us to send us a confidential message.