Area Schools Try To Ensure Proper Student Usage Of Technology

For today’s youth, the digital age in the form of cellphone and social media usage has permeated every facet of everyday life – except school.

While many school districts are moving consistently toward the implementation of new technology in the classroom, policies against unauthorized use of electronic devices have made their way into their codes of conduct.

Nowadays, cellphones and other electronic devices such as tablets seem to be attached to their owners – ever-present and always either on or in-hand regardless of location – and school administrators throughout the area say their presence in school buildings is no exception. Chuck Leichner, superintendent of Forestville Central School, said students’ everyday use of technology is a fact of life, and it is the job of school districts to make sure it is being used appropriately.

“I think technology is important,” Leichner said. “And I think, from what we’ve determined (at Forestville), that trying to keep students’ individual technology out of the building is like trying to swim upstream – it’s not going to happen. It’s a reality. Technology is here, and students are using it on a regular basis. And so, our approach is to monitor it and help kids use it responsibly.”

Leichner said Forestville allows its secondary school students to bring their own devices into the building, where they are registered through the technology department for educational use. Following the registration process, the devices will then have wireless access through the district’s Internet filter.

Though this form of surveillance may be standard procedure among Chautauqua County school districts, it appears tame compared to the measures a Southern California school has taken in order to curtail cyberbullying, drug abuse and other problems.

Last month, the Associated Press reported that Glendale Unified School District hired an outside organization to track the activity of its approximately 14,000 middle and high school students on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and various blogs. The move by the district, which spent $40,500 in the process, stirred up controversy about what privacy rights teenage students have when they fire up their smartphones.

Although local districts have not taken measures to pry into the social lives of students outside of their buildings, they are enforcing policies to prevent them from socializing electronically during the school day.

“In our middle and high school code of conduct, cellphones can’t be used during school hours,” said Tina Sandstrom, director of schools for Jamestown Public Schools. “For the most part, those are kept in their lockers because kids aren’t supposed to have them on or out during the school day. And if students are using the Internet on a school computer anywhere in our district, they can’t go to those (social media) websites – they’re blocked.”

According to Sandstrom, JPS’ policies have proven largely successful in keeping students’ technology use entirely responsible and educational.

“I think the policy is enforced pretty strictly in our district when it comes to cellphones,” she said. “During the school day, I think our schools are very vigilant about enforcing the (policy on) use of cellphones, because they’re the most common.”

I wouldn’t say there’s a problem with (unauthorized usage) because it’s pretty clear in the code of conduct for middle and high school. And the kids know that when they break the rules, there will be consequences for them.”

Falconer Central School enforces the same policy regarding the use of cellphones and technology during the school day. According to Stephen Penhollow, Falconer superintendent, students in his district are generally cooperative.

“We’ve been fortunate to never really get to the point of in-school suspension or detention,” Penhollow said. “(Students) are allowed to bring social media devices and cellphones to school and use them before and after school hours, but they’re to be turned off and in their lockers during school. And the vast majority of our kids follow those guidelines.”

Penhollow said Falconer adheres to a series of responses for repeat offenders.

“The first (violation) results in a warning and a reminder that the device needs to be in their locker and off,” he said. “The second time, they have to turn the device into the office and pick it up at the end of the day. If it happens again after that, then most likely a parent needs to come in and pick it up.

“Kids’ smartphones mean a lot to them, so it’s usually a situation where you remind them (of the policy), and they usually abide by what we request,” he added.