In an Aug. 19 letter sent to Battle High School families, Principal Kim Presko announced that the Wi-Fi system for students’ personal use will be disabled from 8:55 a.m to 4:05 p.m. They’ll still be able to get on the web for classwork.
Battle is making the move, Presko wrote, “to provide an educational environment that is limited from distractions while also increasing our cyber safety and security measures.”
She added that the school has made arrangements with Columbia Public Schools’ Technology Services to have the Wi-Fi turned back on in a lockdown or other emergency, “allowing direct communication between students and families.”
Parents can still reach their children via email because the school has issued laptops to every student, Presko wrote. Those school-issued devices will still have internet access for educational resources. And, she noted, they can still reach students during the school day the old-fashioned way: by calling the school office.
Opponents of the decision have launched a Change.org petition to have it reversed. As of Monday evening, it had gathered 1,508 signatures.
Columbia Public Schools spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said the district agreed to limit Wi-Fi at Battle at the request of the staff. At this point, Battle is the only school in the district engaged in what Baumstark described as a one-year experiment.
“Everyone is just going to see how this one goes and what sort of improvements we see and advantages to doing it,” she said.
The hope is to encourage students to interact less with their cellphones and iPads and more with each other, Baumstark said.
“It’s a change in the cultural environment in that building and getting kids to interact with each other more, be more focused in class,” she added.
“Aside from having some initial questions, our parents have been very supportive of it,” Baumstark said. Battle’s staff “is already seeing some immediate changes and more face-to-face interactions with students, which is great,” she added.
In moving to limit students’ internet use, Battle is joining many educators who worry about the distraction social media has become for students.
One of the earliest to reach this conclusion was longtime internet advocate Clay Shirky, who concluded that social media was causing “a degradation of focus,” not only for students who used it in class but also for those around them.
The New York University professor wrote a 2014 manifesto on why students should put laptops away in class.
“Multitasking is cognitively exhausting,” he said.