Central York School Board addresses technology concerns

Jessica Schladebeck

The Central York School Board during their meeting on Monday voted to purchase an upgrade to their learning management system with the hope of addressing parent concerns surrounding student privacy on the district's digital devices.

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Schoology, an online course management system that allows teachers to create and manage academic courses for their students, offers school districts both a free and premium version. Central York currently utilizes the free version, and a shift to the paid version will afford the Central York administration more control over what is publicly posted on Schoology, said Ryan Billet, assistant to the superintendent for administration.

"At the end of the day we are using a free program," Superintendent Michael Snell said. "That being said, we agree that privacy is very important."

Privacy: Four Central York parents last month approached the board with their concerns about the district's use of technology and the effect it has on young students. The district has distributed devices — either an iPad, laptop or iPad mini — to every child in grades 4 through 12 with the hope of eventually distributing a device to all students, including those in kindergarten.

The concerned parents told the board that some students and teachers treated their Schoology profiles like Facebook and have posted information such as their birthdays, favorite colors and cellphone numbers to the program.

"Switching to the paid version will address a lot of the concerns in regard to the privacy issues," Billet told the board. "It will afford us the opportunity to control what is public and what is private on student and teacher profiles."

Billet said the district has been looking into the switch for months, before parents brought their concerns to the board. He noted other benefits will include video capabilities and better integration with other district programming for teachers. He said Schoology is, by far, the most widely used learning management system.

Cost: The cost is $5 per student, which would come to an annual payment of about $20,000, Billet said, noting it is within the district's technology budget. There is also a one-time start-up fee of $3,900.

"Five dollars per student for their safety seems like a no-brainer," said board member Marie Damiano. "That's a Starbucks order, that's a Happy Meal; when you think about it, the cost is nothing at all."

Billet told the board that if they agreed, Schoology would expedite the switch and allow the district to use the upgrade for free through the end of the fiscal year. He also added the schools would offer Central York students and teachers in grades K-3 the use of the program for free.

Damiano moved to add the purchasing of the upgrade to Monday night's agenda, and the board all voted in favor.

Other concerns: Snell during the meeting also addressed additional concerns presented to the board in regards to technology — chief among them being the amount of time students spend looking at a screen.

"We provide a device and a tool, not a work station," he said. "It is not provided so that students can stare into it all day long — we would never advocate that, not in a professional setting and certainly not in a school setting.

"It is more than clear that students learn differently and at different rates. We do not believe complete cyber education is the solution for everyone, and we don’t advocate that for everyone. We want to let technology do what it does and from there let the human element shine through."

Snell said he and district administrators are also in the process of pricing devices with bigger screens and will present that information to the board in the near future. The use of a device with a bigger screen could go toward eliminating some of the eye strain parents said students were experiencing.

Board President Eric Wolfgang said the conversation about technology in the classroom would be ongoing as the district moved forward, and Snell agreed.

"We promise to listen to all of your concerns and make every modification possible," he said.

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com.