Berwick-area school officials defend students’ use of laptops

Posted March 08, 2012, at 4:55 p.m.

NORTH BERWICK, Maine — MSAD 60 Superintendent Paul Andrade says children have been poking each other with pencils for centuries. Yet we as a society have not banned pencils because of their benefits.

Andrade said the concept of technology works the same way in the local school district he heads.

Foster’s Daily Democrat sat down with officials from MSAD 60 to discuss the use of laptops in the district’s schools.

According to district Technology and Library Services Director Chris Russo, Noble High School and the middle school have participated in the Maine Learning Technology Initiative since 2001. All seventh- through 12th-graders in the district are issued a laptop. When students enter grade 9, parents are invited into the high school for an information session on laptop use and security.

Students are only issued a laptop with parent permission.

Student activity on the laptops is monitored in a number of ways, including a filter system, password protections and Apple Remote Desktop, which allows administrators to view a live image of any student laptop on the school network.

The live image allows administrators to see exactly what students are looking at and working on at any given moment in real-time. Administrators then have the ability to freeze the screen and disallow any further activity by the student if they notice inappropriate use of the laptop.

Russo said MSAD 60 schools use the same filtering system as almost all the schools in Maine. This system is provided by the Maine School and Library Network, which also provides Internet services to those same Maine schools. The filtering system is meant to prevent “accidental” visits to inappropriate sites, including pornographic ones.

Russo estimates there are approximately 1,000 Noble High School students using school laptops.

After a Noble High School student and her mother asserted students are using the laptops for inappropriate activities, including watching pornography, Russo said he took a scrupulous look at all the student laptops at Noble High School and found none of them are accessing or have been accessing pornography on the school’s network.

Superintendent Andrade said the district has had the occasional student lose laptop privileges for use of Facebook or a similar website, but said that compared to the total student population, the number is small and the effect is minimal.

Typically, students receive one warning from school administrators before their laptop privileges are taken away or are limited.

The school also password-protects specific actions on the laptop, including downloading programs and changing some settings. According to Russo, only four people, including himself, have the password to allow these changes.

Teachers do not know these passwords. Not even Noble High School Principal Joe Findley nor Superintendent Andrade have these passwords, according to Russo.

Students are issued specific passwords for logging into their laptops. According to Russo, younger students are not getting these passwords from older students. And while students are allowed to erase their browser history, that action signals to technology staff the presence of wrongdoing and the reason for the erasure is investigated.

All officials present Tuesday said they had received minimal calls from concerned parents about the use of technology in the classrooms.

Principal Findley said he and the NHS resource officer viewed the video filmed by Cheryl Hunter’s daughter where she performs the “Booty Dance” but said they didn’t see the video as threatening — just teenagers being teenagers.

© 2012 Foster’s Daily Democrat

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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