Concerned about the school system's bring your own device program introduced this year, a parent has created an online petition asking that use of the devices is limited to instructional times only for elementary school students.
The program allows staff and students in grades 3-12 to bring their own approved devices to school, including laptops, tablets, netbooks, cellphones, music players and e-readers.
Students in grades 3-5 are allowed to use devices while on school buses, during class time, in the media center, on field trips, in the cafeteria and during recess. They are not allowed to use the devices in restrooms, during assemblies or in hallways and stairwells, according to school system guidelines.
The program began at the start of the school year and was piloted in six elementary schools — Carrolltowne, Cranberry Station, Ebb Valley, Eldersburg, Friendship Valley and William Winchester — during the first half of the school year before it was rolled out in every elementary school. It was introduced to all middle and high schools at the start of the school year.
"While we understand that the BYOD policy is helpful during our budget cuts and allows CCPS to spend less money on technology, there are a number of problems with the BYOD policy for Carroll County elementary schools," wrote Missy Sellers, a Mount Airy resident who has a second- and fifth-grader enrolled in elementary school and who created the petition.
Sellers lists a number of issues with the devices, including negative effects on health, decreased social interaction among students, access to inappropriate material and inequality that results when students from low-income families can't afford the devices. As of Tuesday evening, the petition had garnered 654 signatures toward a goal of 750.
"One of the big concerns that a lot of the parents have is there is nowhere to lock [the devices] up in lockers … they're not really secure," Sellers said. "It's a family iPad — you don't really want that sitting in an unlocked locker."
Parents must review the Portable Electronic Devices Guidelines and agree to terms in a parent sign-off sheet before their children can bring a device to school. Sellers said she opted out of the program; therefore her fifth-grader doesn't bring a device to school.
Bridget Fisher, a fourth-grade teacher at Carrolltowne Elementary, said many parents expressed concern about their children in third and fourth grade bringing a device such as an iPad or Kindle to school, worried that it could get lost.
"We see more fifth-graders using devices here — most of the parents didn't want their kids to bring a $100 device to school because they don't trust them," Fisher said.
Of her 45 students, nine are allowed to bring devices to school, Fisher said. She does not teach lessons using technology unless all students have access to devices. Those with devices can use them to research topics that would supplement learning, she said.
Fisher said she believes the program is working well and sees potential in using the devices as tools with instruction.
"I think it's positive because that's how our world is. We're all using technology; that's how we communicate," Fisher said. "I love the idea that through technology and through data you can customize education for students."
Sellers recognizes that advantage but worries students could spend less time interacting with one another during recess and lunch.
"I know the teachers like to use technology with [instruction], but they've been letting them use it at recess instead of moving around — they basically have their heads down in the device," she said. "They're not building social skills"
Fisher argues students are interacting, just in different ways. When they're playing on a device during recess, other kids will watch, prompting discussion, she said. The devices have also reduced the number of behavioral issues during lunch and recess, she said.
Steve Johnson, assistant superintendent of instruction, said the school system plans to send out a survey to parents after spring break to get feedback on the policy. They will analyze stakeholder feedback and present the information to the school board at their May 13 meeting, Johnson said.
Other nearby school systems are adopting BYOD policies as well.
A bring your own device program was introduced in selected high schools in Howard County last year. This year, all high school in the county and Thomas Viaduct Middle can use approved devices.
Some jurisdictions, such as Baltimore County, are providing devices to all students to enhance learning with technology. Baltimore County Public Schools piloted its Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow, or STAT initiative this year, which put devices in the hands of students in grades 1-3 in 10 elementary schools. The county plans to provide devices to all students by the 2017-2018 school year.
That's something Sellers said might quell concerns that the BYOD program widens achievement gaps between families who can and can't afford digital devices. She suggested the school system provide devices for families who can't afford them.
"In a perfect world, it would be great for every kid to have a device that was assigned by the school or have every kid bring in the same device," Sellers said.
However, such 1:1 technology programs come with a large price tag. Baltimore County spent $18.7 million this fiscal year to pilot the program, said spokesman Mychael Dickerson.
Johnson said he doesn't envision Carroll providing all students with a laptop computer during his career. But if the school system can't provide devices to all students, teachers can't teach lessons that require using a device, Johnson said.
"If we are requiring technology in the learning experience, we will provide the devices to students," Johnson said.
Students currently have access to computers at schools during the day, Johnson said. The school system is also collecting donated smartphones, which have their hard drives wiped by the Carroll Technology Council, Johnson said.
"The vision of it is that teachers would have the devices in the classroom in case a teacher wanted to use them during class," Johnson said.
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