SF explores students using own devices in school

Published Jan 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm (Updated Jan 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm)

In an effort to make the use of cell phones and other electronic devices in school less of a “taboo” topic, South Fayette High School will soon be starting a trial run of allowing students to use their devices while in school.

“We have to get away from it being a taboo thing,” high school Principal Scott Milburn told the board at a Jan. 22 meeting. Milburn said he and school board members Alexander Czaplicki and Teresa Burroughs recently visited Hampton and Upper St. Clair high schools to see how their BYOD or Bring Your Own Device policies were working. Devices include any electronics like cell phones, mp3 players, iPads and e-readers.

Milburn said at Upper St. Clair, students could use their phones or mp3 players freely on their own time. He said the students could make a call or text while at lunch or in the hallways between classes. He said the policy at Hampton was not as open as the Upper St. Clair policy, but students were still able to use their devices.

Milburn said if a policy is eventually implemented, it will focus on responsible use of electronic devices in the school. He asked the board for a one-month pilot of the policy, but the board agreed that 60 days would be a more appropriate amount of time.

To start, Milburn and Skrbin said they would devise a presentation that would be shown to staff and students regarding the policy and parents and students would have to sign off that they understand the policy.

Milburn added that one “golden rule” they will have in place is total transparency, meaning whenever a teacher or staff member asks a students to see their phone, they have to show it to that staffer immediately. He said if the student tries to hide the phone, makes the screen go dark or locks it, the phone will be taken away. Milburn stressed that they will not be “digging through” a student’s phone, but the rule is in place to make sure the student is not doing anything wrong.

“These things are a part of our culture,” Skrbin said of phones and mp3 players. He added that schools are trying to get away from the “culture of mistrust” of electronic devices in schools.

Responsible use in the classroom will be at the individual teacher’s discretion.

Czaplicki said his only concern is if the school has enough bandwidth to accommodate all the devices that the students may be bringing. Currently the network has about 200 devices on it and it can accommodate up to 700.

Joelle Darby, the student representative on the school board, said that students want to use their devices in school. “They’re ready for it,” she said.

An official start date for the 60-day trial period was not set at the meeting.

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