Columbia schools change with technology

Tuesday, December 9, 2008 | 9:34 p.m. CST
From left, Josh Gaskins, Grant Hunter and Collin Morris play on their cell phones between lunch breaks at Rock Bridge High School on Dec. 2, 2008. Rock Bridge has designated cell phone zones in which students are allowed to use their cell phones.

COLUMBIA — "What r u doing 2nite? Meet me @ my locker @ 3." Text messages like this one can be sent during the school day since a few Columbia schools enacted more lenient cell phone policies last year. Cell phones, along with digital cameras and networking Web sites, have made their way into schools.

As the shift to new technology happens in schools, administrators and parents are trying to determine both how to allow students the greatest use of these devices while ensuring that such use happens in a safe environment.

High school cell phone policies

Hickman High School:

Students can access cell phones before, during and after school in the commons area. Cell phones are allowed in classrooms and hallways before and after school, and during lunch.

Rock Bridge High School:

Students can use cell phones any time in "cell phone zones," which include the cafeteria, commons area and designated hallways. They cannot be used in classrooms or adjacent hallways during class.

Douglass High School:

Students can use cell phones before and after school, and in the cafeteria during their lunch period.

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In an effort to bridge the information gap between parents and their tech-savvy kids, Bridges, an alcohol and drug prevention organization at Columbia's three high schools, is sponsoring an Internet safety forum at Rock Bridge High School Dec. 10. Detective Andy Anderson of the Boone County Sheriff's Department is scheduled to speak to parents about how to protect their children from Internet dangers. The event starts at 7 p.m. in the school media center.

One event recently highlighted those complexities. In October , a Hickman High School student filmed a fight with a digital camera and posted the video on YouTube. Hickman Principal Mike Jeffers and Rock Bridge Principal Kathy Ritter both said there is no school policy pertaining to digital cameras. Ritter also added that there is no policy at Rock Bridge for putting videos taken during school on Web sites such as YouTube.

Douglass High School Principal Brian Gaub said he believes the use of cameras should be seen as a privacy issue.

"Students must have the option of refusing to be photographed or videoed," Gaub said.

Columbia high schools' cell phone policies include no use allowed during school hours excluding lunch, and use allowed in designated cell phone zones where students can text and call freely. All three  Columbia high schools are equipped with media centers, which are quiet areas with print, non-print and electronic resources in which students can do academic research. Columbia high school students even get their own school e-mail addresses.

When the Rock Bridge media center opened in 2000, it had 100 to 200 computers, said Dennis Murphy, co-director of the center. Today the school boasts over 600 computers, including some assigned to faculty. These computers are for academic use only and can be used by any student enrolled in the school.

Before students are granted permission to use computers, they must turn in a form signed by both the student and a parent or guardian. By signing this document, the parent grants the student permission to access school e-mail and verifies that he or she has read the district technology usage policies.

Although students are allowed to use computers, they don’t have unfiltered access to the Internet. Every school uses filters to block unwanted sites from appearing on the screen. Blocked sites include game sites and chat rooms as well as networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

David Kessler, manager of network infrastructure and operations for Columbia Public Schools, said every request goes through the filtering device. The request is examined and forwarded to the Internet if it passes the criteria.

“It is always a challenge to try to keep up on new ways of trying to circumvent the filtering,” Kessler said.

Access levels are determined by user type and, in the case of students, grade levels. Teachers and staff have a separate policy from students, and policy also varies among grade levels.

Technology has become a tool for monitoring students. When principals hear rumors of students participating in unacceptable behaviors, they can see evidence on social networking sites. Ritter said she doesn’t monitor Facebook, but when rumors arise, she investigates.

“It’s just like if someone puts a picture on my desk,” Ritter said. “Sometimes we turn it over to the authorities. It could be a piece of a puzzle we couldn’t ignore.”  

Jeffers, the Hickman principal, said the school’s encounters with networking sites have been mostly indirect. Pictures from parties, for example, have caused eligibility issues for students participating in athletics and school activities.

Rock Bridge sophomore Hannah Pancoast uses Facebook to keep in touch with her friends from Ohio, where she lived before moving to Columbia. Pancoast said Facebook is pretty popular at her school, but she hasn’t really seen any pictures of students involved in illegal activities.

Although students aren’t accessing the sites at school, the content posted could still be used in school discipline.

"Posting information on Facebook is similar to putting information in a scrapbook and sharing that with others," Ritter said. "If a student would not be willing to share his or her scrapbook with the principal, then the student should not put this information on Facebook."

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Ray Shapiro December 9, 2008 | 11:17 p.m.

Just because kids put pressure on their parents for cell phones, etc. doesn't mean that every kid should have a cell phone. I also see no advantage to one's educational experience to be allowing cell phones, for non-curriculum purposes, being used in the schools. Technology can be an asset, it can also be an unnecessary expense. Whatever happened to using the telephone in the school office, for "important' phone calls? We are just making the "cell phone" business rich and turning our kids into "phone-aholics." What could ever be so important that students "need" to be on the phone, every chance they get, during the school day? Are they calling their stock brokers? We're just creating a nation of "chatty-kathies"

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Lifelong Columbian December 10, 2008 | 7:44 a.m.

I see no use for cell phones within the halls of education. Are they there to learn or socialize? Which is it?

The problem is not that they are on the phone in class, although I have it on good authority many are, it is that they are thinking about the next phone call/conversation rather than their studies. It is kind of like the issue with driving while texting/talking. Your mind is not on the road as it should be. I say the cell phones are a distraction. We did manage to survive without them for hundreds of years.

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