'Bring Your Own Device' policy at Staples sparks questions
Updated 10:12 am, Friday, December 12, 2014
With the start of the holiday shopping season, parents of Staples High School students, or those starting classes there in the fall, may have to tweak their shopping lists.
At the start of the next academic year, Staples students will be required to bring an electronic device to school for daily use, according to a recent letter from Staples Principal John Dodig, noting it's a new Board of Education policy called Bring Your Own Device, or "BYOD."
"Knowing that we are entering a traditional gift-giving season, the Westport Schools Tech Department has developed a website that provides all pertinent information on this matter," he added. "If you plan to buy such a gift for your child, go to this site and review all of the recommended specifications for several brands of devices. You can simply print this and bring it with you when shopping. The site will be updated regularly."
But the PTA Council last week expressed concern over the lack of communication between the school system and parents concerning implementation of the new policy.
"There has been no real explanation by the Board of Education," said Sue Calger about the way the new policy has been communicated to parents. While the council agrees it's "a great idea," she said parents need more information than just a list of the acceptable devices.
"They should have held parent sessions prior to the memo sent by the high school principal," she said. "It's like putting the cart before the horse."
She said that she's not aware of any other written information about the policy being provided to parents.
"There's been talk about this and it was brought up at the Board of Education meetings," she said about implementing BYOD, part of the school system's five-year strategic technology plan. But, she added, not all parents are aware it's become a school policy. "I understand the board's desire to have the policy in place, but we need more details," she said.
Dodig said the topic was mentioned at least twice at public school board sessions and was "the main agenda item" at the Nov. 21 PTA coffee.
He said the PTA event "was well advertised, but not well attended." A presentation was made at that time and the message he sent to parents, immediately after that event, included a link to the BYOD website, Dodig added.
Calger said the council also felt "there should have been more of an explanation of the policy itself and how it will be implemented" regarding financial assistance, parent willingness to provide devices etc.
Calger said there are also "some practical concerns that need to be addressed like theft and loss" of the devices.
In fact, Dodig, in a message to parents that reminded them of that PTA coffee, said he also reminded them to tell their children to "lock up all their belongings instead of simply throwing them in a pile on the floor of the cafeteria or locker room."
Dodig said that memo also mentioned that "many more students next year" will be bringing electronic devices to school. "It is really up to the students to hold on to their stuff," he said in the memo. "Students now lose about six iPhones a week, most of which are found and returned," he said.
At a recent Board of Education meeting, Natalie Carrigan, the school system's director of technology, said that 60 percent of the high school students already bring their own electronic devices to school. But, she added, it's not the same 60 percent every day. "We need consistency," she said. "So we need 100 percent bringing them in."
The cost for the devices on the approved list include the Chromebook, which school board member Mark Mathias said costs about $299 new. Mathias, also the technology columnist for the Westport News, said some parents might say they can't afford it, but he said, "we can address that."
Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon said there are procedures in place to deal with a financial hardship issue. In fact, the board passed a resolution that "any student at Staples eligible for free and reduced price school lunches or whose family is receiving assistance through the Town of Westport's `Warm Up Fund' will be eligible for a personal digital device for instructional purposes paid for by the Board of Education."
"There could be a sliding fee," added board member Elaine Whitney.
After some research, it was determined that about 90 (of the school's 1,900) students in financial need would need to have the devices purchased for them by the board. It was estimated the cost would be $27,450 -- 90 students times about $305 for each Chromebook -- and it was recommended by the administration that $30,000 be allocated in the 2015-16 school budget to cover that cost.
There was agreement that implementing the initiative would be a challenge and cost the board money. "But this is an investment we have to do," Mathias said.
In long-term, however, school officials were not certain if the district would save money by requiring students to bring their own devices to class instead of supplying the devices.
The site for updates on the BYOD initiative is: www.byod.westport.k12.ct.us.