School district goes wireless to avoid hungry rodents

A school whose computer system was plagued by line-gnawing rodents has decided to install a new wireless network.

The Union Local Board of Education in Morristown, Ohio, will contract Computer Business Center of Marietta, Ohio, to install the system, which will link computers between the district’s various schools buildings.

Rodents gnawed through the district’s original $14,000 underground fiber optic system. The lines’ salt content is believed to have attracted the animals.

District technology coordinator Carol LaPosta said she’s been promised that the wireless system will be as effective as the fiber optic lines.

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Newslines–South Carolina launches education feedback site

The internet became a forum for handling South Carolina’s education issues as the state inaugurated its online Millennium Education Project April 6.

The project’s goal is for people to share their education ideas and eMail their suggestions or questions to Gov. Jim Hodges, U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley, and other government officials.

Visitors can also discuss education with one another in the chat room.

About 40 percent of South Carolinians have internet access, making it an important communication tool, said Phil Noble, president of the project.

“What we’re finding is the growth of the internet is spreading all across the population,” he said. “We believe the discussion of education policy, of new ideas–that discussion needs to take place on the internet.”

On April 22, the shared ideas that resulted from the New Millennium Project became the subject of a live Education Issues forum at the University of South Carolina’s law school. The meeting also was transmitted live on the project’s internet site.

“Particularly here in South Carolina, we’re delighted that Governor Hodges is turning attention to education reform,” said Lacy Ford, a University of South Carolina history professor. “South Carolina will have to take full advantage of the opportunity there in cyberspace and on the internet.”

The web site can be accessed at

Newslines–Iowa district switches phone service for safety measures

Cedar Falls, Iowa, school officials hope caller identification will help prevent prank calls and bogus bomb threats.

After a bogus school-wide bomb threat in early February that disrupted classes, Superintendent Dan Smith said he fielded several telephone calls from parents asking why the district didn’t have Caller ID.

At the time of the threats, the district’s telephone carrier, U.S. West, indicated it was not possible for the district to get ID boxes because it had so many telephone lines. The school district had 80 telephone lines, but only 36 outside lines.

“That created kind of a bottleneck,” said Craig Hansel, the district’s director of business affairs.

The district transferred its service to McLeodUSA. Now with 100 outside phone lines, the schools can receive call tracing functions for no extra cost.

Hansel said the school staff can now punch in a code and determine the telephone number of the most recent caller to the school.

To avoid this function being blocked by a caller, McLeod provided a call trace function which cannot be blocked. That allows school staff to send the caller information directly to the police department.

“Anything that we can do to help improve the safety and the welfare of the students and staff in our building is a positive,” Hansel said.

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Legislation helps agencies donate computer equipment

Both the Washington state House and Senate have passed bills that would cut out the red tape on computer equipment donations to schools by state agencies.

The private sector in Washington has long been a friend of schools when it comes to donating surplus computer equipment to schools. That has not been the same case for state agencies, which are currently hampered by state rules. Before an agency can give equipment to a school, it must first alert the state Department of General Administration, which puts a priority on giving the equipment to other agencies that could make use of it. The state also requires that an agency receives fair market value for the equipment being sold.

That should change soon with the passage of separate bills in the state House and Senate. The bills would allow agencies to donate computers to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which would then distribute the equipment on a needs-first basis among Washington schools.

The House bill includes a few more details that are not part of the Senate version, such as giving preference to students with disabilities. The bill would also let the Office of Public Instruction donate its own surplus computers and would allow the state’s legislative branch to get into the act as well.

Lawmakers are expected to hammer out a single version of the two bills this spring. The bills were prompted by lawmakers’ concerns that there is an unmet need for technology in Washington schools.

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Students push lawmakers for more technology funding

A group of Indiana elementary school students recently held a friendly demonstration at the Statehouse to ask lawmakers for more technology funding at their schools.

The students came from Plainfield and South Bend to greet lawmakers in front of the state capitol, toting gifts that were meant to symbolize the value of educational technology.

“We want the (legislators) to know these kids use technology in the classroom–it’s not something ‘extra,'” Suellen Reed, Plainfield’s superintendent of public instruction, told the Indianapolis News.

Fifth-grader Andy Hughes had something to say to Indiana lawmakers, telling them “how important it is to have this (technology) for us now and for future years and future students.”

State Sen. Connie Lawson and Reps. Matt Whetstone, Bob Behning, and Jeff Thompson supported the students during the demonstration.

“This is a great way to get them involved at an early age in how government works,” remarked Behning, who later introduced the students to the full House of Representatives.

The students toured the Statehouse sporting T-shirts with the phrase, “Where Technology Helps Us Learn.”

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Computer failure closes alternative school

They might not get many snow days in Louisiana, but most students at a Baton Rouge-area alternative school had an unexpected holiday in mid-March because of a network computer crash.

The computer failure, blamed on a faulty part in the school’s main central computer, forced the School of Hope in the Pointe Coupee Parish to close down to most students for a couple of weeks.

The alternative school relies completely on a computer network to teach its 110 students. The school provides a self-paced program for dropouts, discipline cases, those with learning disabilities, and adults returning to the classroom.

The school was reduced to administrating a few written tests to some students while a replacement part was being located.

Because of its reliance on computers and the student make-up of the School of Hope–most have been expelled or suspended from other area schools–closing the alternative school presented a larger problem than it would in most other situations, because students could not simply be shifted to other schools.

“When the School (of Hope) does not function, they’re not in school. It’s not like regular a school,” said Superintendent David Lee.

As a result, many parents had to scramble to find caretakers for their children while the school was all but shut down.

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Newslines–California schools need smoke alarms, lawmaker says

California Assemblyman Ted Lampert has reintroduced a bill in the state legislature that would require California schools to install smoke detectors and automatic fire alarms.

State law requires public and private schools to have fire-warning systems and alarms, but the law refers only to the old pull-type alarms that are not activated until someone physically triggers them. There are currently no requirements for smoke detectors or any other automated systems, nor are schools required to have sprinklers.

The Lampert bill is the lawmaker’s third try at requiring schools to have smoke detectors and automatic alarms. The legislature approved both previous proposals in 1997 and 1998, only to have them vetoed by then Gov. Pete Wilson, who said the alarm systems were too expensive to require for all schools.

Lampert’s bill would require new schools to have automated fire detection and alarm systems beginning in July 2000. The proposal would also allow school districts to use money from the $9 billion school bond bill approved by voters last fall to install systems in new or remodeled schools.

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FYI: This Month’s Links

Alpena Public Schools

http://www.oweb.com/upnorth/aps

American Library Association

http://www.ala.org

Annenberg Public Policy Center

http://appcpenn.org

Education and Library Networks Coalition

http://www.edlinc.org

Federal Communications Commission

http://www.fcc.gov

Johnson & Wales University

http://www.jwu.edu

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

http://www.ntia.doc.gov

Republican National Committee

http://www.rnc.org

Rep. Billy Tauzin

http://www.house.gov/tauzin

Schools and Libraries Division

http://www.sl.universalservice.org

Sen. John McCain

http://www.senate.gov/~mccain

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FCC to seek comment on “acceptable use policy” requirement

On May 4, Federal Communications Chairman William Kennard expressed strong interest in a plan to require acceptable use policies for schools and libraries receiving eRate funds. Kennard was reacting to the release of a report by the Annenberg Public Policy Center claiming that parents are “deeply fearful about the internet’s influence on their children.”

In a speech at the Annenberg Center’s National Conference on the Internet and the Family in Washington, D.C., he noted that “helping parents use technology in the home is only one part of using it responsibly. We also have to look at how the internet is being used away from the home in our nation’s schools and libraries.”

Kennard said he supports a Commerce Department plan to require schools and libraries applying for eRate discounts to adopt policies for shielding children from inappropriate material on the internet and will seek public comment on the plan soon.

In an April 8 letter to the FCC, Larry Irving, chief of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), urged the agency to require such policies from schools and libraries in exchange for receiving the eRate. The policies should be part of a school’s technology plan, which is already required of eRate applicants, Irving said.

“To me, this idea makes a lot of sense,” Kennard said at the Annenberg conference. “As schools around the country think about how they are going to use technology in the classroom, they should also think about how to use it responsibly. . . . I am eager to hear the thoughts of parents, teachers, principals, and librarians on this issue.”

The “acceptable use policy” requirement is the Clinton administration’s alternative to legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and in the House by Rep. Bob Franks, R-N.J., that would require schools and libraries receiving eRate funds to install filtering software on all computers used by minors.

The bills would not mandate a particular filtering solution and would leave it up to local school boards and library directors to decide what to filter. But detractors of the legislation say it would handcuff local officials who are opposed to filtering solutions and could cost schools and libraries thousands of dollars in added expenses.

Acceptable use policies would “offer reasonable assurances to parents that safeguards will be in place in the school and library setting” while allowing local officials to set their own policies regarding internet use, Irving’s letter said.

The Annenberg report, titled “The Internet and the Family: The View from Parents, the View from the Press,” states that, “The rush to connect the web to American homes is happening despite parents’ substantial insecurities about it. Most parents with online connections at home are deeply fearful about the web’s influence on their children. For example, over 75 percent of these parents are concerned that their children might give out personal information and view sexually explicit images on the internet.”

The report can be read online in PDF format at: http://appcpenn.org/appc/reports/rep27.pdf

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An analysis of per-student eRate funding, by state

Per-student funding commitments for the first year of the eRate ranged from a high of $88.92 in Alaska to a low of $7.20 in New Hampshire, an analysis by the eRate consulting firm Funds For Learning (FFL) shows. The average amount committed per child in the 50 states and the District of Columbia was $30.39, while the median was $27.03.

Six other states and the District of Columbia topped $50 or more per child: Kentucky ($70.66), District of Columbia ($64.89), Alabama ($58.68), Georgia ($55.52), New Mexico ($51.69), New York ($51.10), and Oklahoma ($50.00). At the other end of the spectrum, six states received less than $13 per student: Maine ($12.82), Utah ($12.56), Maryland ($12.39), Wyoming ($11.94), Delaware ($7.98), and New Hampshire ($7.20).

FFL used state totals released by the SLD and figures from the National Center for Educational Statistics’ Digest of Education Statistics, 1997 to compute the per-child averages. The NCES figures represented an estimate of each state’s school-age resident population as of July 1, 1996. Resident population figures were used because public, private, and parochial schools all qualify for support, the company said.

The SLD conducted outreach programs in all 50 states, but the level of support provided at the state level varied from one state to another. The numbers only reflect the commitments that were made, not funds that have actually been spent or distributed.

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