Big brother actually little bother

School officials address concerns over student privacy

By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
(231) 222-2119

Computer software applications have become so advanced and helpful that they can do just about anything—even spy on unsuspecting people.

With laptop and tablet computers now being handed out to students at schools all over the country—including right here in Boyne City—the concern over privacy is becoming more and more of an issue, especially after one Philadelphia school district was caught taking pictures of students without their knowledge.

“The BCPS iPads only have software that will allow for remote permission setting. We can turn certain permissions on and off, like whether the device can get onto the internet,” stated Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Peter Moss in an e-mailed response to questions from the Boyne City Gazette. “We can not remotely operate the iPad in any way; we simply have the ability to set permissions remotely.”

What may have piqued the concern of some anonymous locals is language in the Boyne City Public Schools’ iPad agreement contract which states: “ In the event of loss or theft, it is very important to notify school personnel quickly. The school district will treat a lost iPad as stolen and will support the authorities in tracking the device with our remote access.”

The words “remote access,” said Boyne City Public Schools Board President and Technology Committee member Ken Schrader, refers to the school system’s ability to contact Apple, maker of the iPad, and find out where the device is.

“We can turn in a number and if it (the iPad) logs into the wireless network it can be tracked,” Schrader said. “We do not have the ability to turn on the cameras and we don’t have that software installed because we specifically said we do not want it.”

The other cause for concern seems to have stemmed from the February 2010 case of  the Lower Merion School District which took at least 56,000 pictures of students, some of whom were at home in their bedrooms at the time.

The schools were investigated by the FBI and an eventual $610,000 out-of-court settlement was reached with two defendants, one of whom had been alerted to the spying when a principal approached him accusing him of selling drugs based on remote photographs taken.

The 1,400 iPads were purchased by Boyne schools at a price of $599 each.

Moss said things are working as smoothly as can be expected with the new devices, adding that parents and students should have absolutely no concerns about their privacy.

“We respect student privacy and wouldn’t want to do anything to put students at risk,” Moss stated. “We only believe that we need the ability to control what the students can and can’t do on the device through permission setting controls.”
He added, “We can’t envision a situation where we would need or want any more control than that.”

According to Moss, the District Technology Committee, comprised of teachers, principals, tech support personnel, a school board member and himself, drove this decision because they believe that the most effective method for educating today’s youth is through the use of individual technology tools.

“When we place technology in the hands of each student we have the ability to transform the way that teachers teach and students learn,” he stated. “We are living in the post PC (personal computer) era and it is the responsibility of schools to ensure that our students are prepared to enter that world.”

Moss added, “Since relatively few districts in Michigan are combining the use of iPads, Apple TV’s and projectors with their instruction, there has not been an easy road map to follow when it comes to solving those bumps in the road while coordinating their use.”

Moss said his staff and the technology support team are pioneering the use of this coordinating these technologies.

“Their professionalism, patience and problem-solving ability has been exemplary,” he stated. “As a result, implementing the various tech devices gets better everyday.

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