Carroll schools to reevaluate bring your own device policy in elementary schools

In this March 2015 file photo, fourth-grader Jessica Richardson, right, works on a problem with classmates Allie Wallace and Larkin Fitzsimmons, center, using handheld devices including tablets and smartphones, during a STEM class at Carrolltowne Elementary School in Eldersburg.
In this March 2015 file photo, fourth-grader Jessica Richardson, right, works on a problem with classmates Allie Wallace and Larkin Fitzsimmons, center, using handheld devices including tablets and smartphones, during a STEM class at Carrolltowne Elementary School in Eldersburg. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

It was February when Melanie Repp’s daughter came home from the bus upset after an incident that resulted in her sleeping on the floor of her parents’ room for three months.

Repp’s daughter, who attends third grade at Runnymede Elementary School, was on the bus when a friend who was sitting next to her was watching a horror movie on her device.

Parents concerned about the school system's Bring Your Own Device Program in elementary schools, which allows staff and students in grades 3-12 to bring their own digital devices to school, have created an online petition asking that the school system limit device use to during instruction times.

“Our family has had to deal with the repercussions of this since Feb. 1 when my 8-year-old daughter came home hysterically crying,” Repp said, as she fought back tears, at a recent Carroll County Board of Education meeting. “Her friend who sat next to her on the bus was watching the horror movie “Annabelle.”

“Up until that day ‘Scooby-Doo’ had been the scariest thing she had seen.”


Repp, of Silver Run, told the story of the incident to the school board during public comment at the May 9 meeting, and asked the school system to reevaluate the current bring your own device policy for young students.

“I strongly feel that the guidelines should be revised to only allow the use of devices when directed by the teacher and eliminate usage on the school bus all together,” she said. “To say [my daughter] was traumatized is an understatement.”

Repp said her daughter can’t unsee the movie she saw on the bus, and that as a parent, she shouldn’t have to worry about her child being exposed to material she doesn’t approve of while her daughter is in the care of the school system.

“The internet is a scary place and elementary school students should not be given unsupervised access while at school or on the bus,” she added.


The CCPS school board made the decision that night to begin reviewing the bring your own device policy at the elementary level after Repp’s emotional speech.

Repp, in an interview with the Carroll County Times, said she’s satisfied the school system will be reevaluating the policy. Repp reiterated that she thinks the devices should only be used in school when directed so by a teacher and that students shouldn’t be able to use them on the bus unless there’s an emergency.

The devices aren’t being used as a learning tool on the bus, she added.
 “I’m not trying to totally get rid of it,” Repp said, but added that she wants the policy changed.

If students aren’t allowed to use devices on the bus, she said, a driver can better enforce that than trying to supervise and control what students are watching, which a driver can’t do.

The bring your own device program started with a pilot before it was passed in July 2014, said Cindy McCabe, the director of elementary schools for CCPS.

“We basically piloted the program in certain schools across the county to see how it would go and it went well,” she said.

After the trial, CCPS surveyed parents, students and teachers to decide whether to move forward with the policy, she said. When the school board approved it, they said they wanted to come back and evaluate it after the policy had been in place for a while.

“This is the perfect time for us to reevaluate and look at the effectiveness,” she said.

As the policy currently stands, McCabe said, students can’t bring a device into school until third grade. Then, students can use the device with teacher approval.

The devices are meant to be a tool, and also for security and safety, she said. It’s up to each school if students are allowed to used devices in the hallways, during lunch or at recess, she added. At this point, students are also allowed to use devices on the school bus.

According to the policy, students are allowed to use devices with ear buds or headphones, unless otherwise directed by the bus driver.

“We have not had many discipline issues at all over BYOD,” McCabe said

In the 2013-2014 school year, there were six technology violations across the schools at the elementary level, Dana Falls, director of student services for CCPS, said. For the 2014-2015 year and in the 2015-2016 year, there were 23. In the 2016-2017 year, there were 16 violations and so far this year, there have been 31 technology violations at the elementary level, he said.

For the review, McCabe said she will be surveying teachers to determine how often bring your own devices is being used in the classrooms and what teachers feel the effectiveness is. There will also likely be a survey developed for parents, she said, though she added that she didn’t know a timeframe for the survey.

The original policy went into place because the school system wanted to “decriminalize” the cellphone, McCabe said.

“Many parents wanted their children to have cellphones in schools,” she said.

McCabe said she’s open to revising the policy in any way that parents and teachers believe it needs to be revised, which could be anything from not allowing devices in schools, or a new set of rules about school use.

Board of Education member Devon Rothschild agreed with looking at the policy to see if it is effective.

“I did ultimately vote for the policy,” Rothschild said. “I did at that point in time express concerns about its use in the elementary school.”

Rothschild said she’s heard some concerns at the elementary level.

And, she said, seeing as there are some concerns from parents, and the fact the school board said it wanted to review the policy early on, the timing is right.

“It makes sense to do that now,” she said.