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School system discusses Internet, social media usage

When Tracie Allen took her daughter’s phone away as part of a punishment, she was shocked to find 13-year-old Azariah had a Facebook account.

Azariah isn’t allowed to have a Facebook, Allen said. But even with her phone taken away, Azariah has still been able use friends’ phones and school computers at Vina High School to access her Facebook account, leaving Allen perplexed as to what to do.

“When I was going to school, I hated to school – wanted to drop out and everything. My kids love school. Why? Because they go up there and do as they please,” Allen said.

Allen said she doesn’t think students should have cellphones or tablets at school – or even have access to Wi-Fi.

“They should cut out Wi-Fi altogether,” Allen said. “School hours are for learning – not for playing on Facebook.”

Actually – that might no longer be true. School hours can be, in part, dedicated to “playing” on Facebook.

At Vina, as at all other Franklin County schools, Facebook is not blocked. According to Superintendent Gary Williams, cellphone and social media usage varies by school and by classroom across the county, typically at teacher discretion.

“Internet and Wi-Fi are just a way of life,” Williams said.

It’s not a way of life for just students, either.

“Most of our schools have a Facebook page that they use to keep parents informed of what’s going on in the schools,” explained Sandra Guinn, technology coordinator for Franklin County Schools. “We did have it blocked for a while … But it doesn’t look like it’s going away. So we encourage our classes, if they are going to use it … teach students how to use it correctly. We need to teach them to be responsible users.”

Guinn said the school system takes great measures to be CIPPA compliant; receives automatically generated reports when a student tries to access inappropriate content; and makes it a point to encourage good judgment and to recognize and not engage in cyber-bullying, but removing Facebook – or indeed, Wi-Fi altogether – just isn’t the answer.

“We’re pro-technology,” Guinn said.

Williams said this is actually the first time he’s had a parent express the view that students have too much Internet access.

“Most people are complaining because we don’t have enough access,” Williams said.

“Social media is just a part of every student’s life,” Guinn added.

But Allen is firm on her position.

“We did not get on the Internet at school,” Allen said. “We survived.”