eSN Special Report–The Hill School upgrades its network capabilities

Rick Bauer, chief information officer for The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., joined the school in 1997 to help prepare it for the next millennium. “The administration saw the potential that computers and networking offered, but did not have a clear plan to help students take advantage of it,” he said.

The 500-student private high school since has instituted an aggressive technology program. Students now are expected to use laptop computers to take notes, classrooms are wired so curriculum can be tightly tied to computer-based instruction, and a handful of programming classes are offered.

Along with the school’s change in outlook, students’ use of the internet swelled, multimedia applications began to emerge, and the school wanted to hold videoconferences with sister sites in Australia and England. To support its increased technology focus, the school needed to upgrade its network infrastructure.

Because it placed strong emphasis on voice and video, The Hill School opted to deploy an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) backbone network. After talking with a handful of suppliers, the school purchased equipment from Siemens Information and Communication Networks Group of Munich, Germany. “We felt the ATM spec was still in flux at the time, but it seemed Siemens was standards-driven and would quickly offer compliant products,” Bauer explained. Also, the company offered both data and voice ATM equipment, while other suppliers focused on one or the other.

By the fall of 1997, the high school had installed the network, which connects 36 buildings on campus. In addition to wiring classrooms and administrative buildings, the high school ran a voice connection and a data line to each dorm room. “We wanted to make it simple for students to access computer resources,” Bauer said.

While upgrading the network, the school decided to revamp its servers, which were a hodgepodge of PC and UNIX systems. “Management was difficult, because each department had been able to purchase its own equipment,” Bauer said. “We wanted the new system to enable members of the IT department to leave work at 5 p.m., rather than troubleshoot the network all night.”

The high school migrated to servers from Dell Computers Inc. of Round Rock, Tex., running Microsoft’s Windows NT operating system to support academic and administrative tasks. Now, the school relies mainly on Microsoft and Siemens tools to ensure that the network and its servers are available. “We have a lot more visibility into and control over the network and computers now, because the equipment is the same from department to department,” Bauer said.

But the school needed one more management tool. With so much information flowing over the network, the school had to be sure that information was secure. “We wanted to deploy the network as an idealist, but secure it as a Calvinist,” Bauer joked.

Since anyone could log onto a system, it was possible that first a faculty member and later a student would work with the same PC. The Hill School had to be sure that the students wouldn’t be able to access confidential information.

For this task, the school selected WinShield Secure Desktop from Citadel Technology of Dallas. “The Citadel software worked with a variety of desktop clients,” Bauer said.

The product’s usage feature controls the length of time a user has access to a computer system or an application: An administrator can define the length of system inactivity before a user would automatically be logged off. “We wanted to be sure that if a teacher was called away from a machine and left it operating, a student wouldn’t be able to use it to access private data,” Bauer said.

The product offers other benefits as well. Users often cause system problems by installing unauthorized software, downloading drivers, or changing system settings. WinShield’s folder protection feature enables a network administrator to control access to specific files, folders, desktop shortcuts, or even drives so private information will remain that way and students can’t copy, move, delete, or rename files. The product also gives schools the ability to secure files and folders as read-only and to prevent changes to file attributes.

In addition, an administrator can allow the use of an application, but restrict certain application functions, menus, and options. The product disables menu items and features in Windows applications. For instance, an administrator can disable the Options item from the Tool menu in Microsoft Word.

Use of the software has helped keep problem calls to a minimum. “The WinShield product has enabled us to balance offering students and teachers flexibility in accessing systems with our need to control the information they work with,” Bauer said.

The Hill School declined to implement WinShield Secure Desktop’s filtering capabilities. “We understand that the internet–like the rest of the world–is not a perfect place, and there may be times when students will access inappropriate materials,” Bauer said. “Rather than watching everything they work with and reprimanding them when they make bad choices, we would rather focus on providing them with the background needed so they make good decisions.”

Yet, even the best filtering tools may not be enough to keep its students from accessing inappropriate materials. The Hill School offers classes in not only C++, Microsoft’s PowerPoint, and the world wide web, but students can even become Microsoft Certified Engineers, a classification normally associated with full-time computer industry professionals.

Its network emphasis has pushed the school to technology’s leading edge. The school is now moving to voice-over internet protocol (IP), an emerging specification that enables an organization to run its voice communications over its local access networks. “Implementing voice-over IP will eliminate redundancy and simplify management,” Bauer said.

As the next millennium approaches, The Hill School seems well-positioned to take advantage of emerging computer and networking technology.

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eSN Special Report–Network Administration: Keeping pace with rapid expansion

Being a network administrator in the era of the eSchool isn’t easy. Graphically intensive applications like videoconferencing and multimedia can chew up bandwidth faster than you can click a mouse, while curious or malicious students have the ability to change network settings and knock systems, even entire networks, off line. And though the internet offers a wealth of useful information, administrators must ensure that only appropriate materials find their way to students’ desktops.

To top it all off, along with the challenges has come an increased importance of networking to the classroom curriculum.

“Computers have become such an integral part of the curriculum that teachers need school networks to be up and running to do their jobs,” said Phillip Hibbert, assistant superintendent for technology services at the Cobb County School District in Marietta, Ga. “A few months ago, a communications problem knocked part of our network off line and a handful of classes were canceled.”

A network administrator’s job is to keep network connections running so this doesn’t happen. Meeting this goal has gotten tougher, because the number of computers in use is rising and network connections are becoming larger and more complex. Consequently, there are more potential problems than ever.

In 1995, the Cobb County School District had only local area networks (LANs), but the state pumped $40 million into frame-relay 1.5-Mbps wide area network (WAN) lines to move information from school to school. A 45-Mbps connection at the central management facility helps network administrators monitor 25,000 computers supporting 91,000 students in 61 elementary schools, 19 middle schools, 14 high schools, and four special education centers.

Network equipment vendors and software suppliers have delivered a raft of tools to monitor network connections and keep them afloat–most of the time. As its network has grown, so has the number of tools Cobb County School District network technicians rely on.

The district uses CiscoWorks from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., to control network equipment, such as routers and switches; ManageWise and Z.E.N. Works from Novell Inc. of Provo, Utah, to oversee its LAN servers; and a number of tools to control individual components, such as frame-relay access devices. Despite the growing list of tools, the district expects the number of problem calls to increase from 12,000 to 16,000 this year.

With demands for support growing, the district would like to make its staff more efficient. Unfortunately, that’s not a term usually associated with management tools. Part of the problem stems from the complexity of current networks.

Even in a simple dial-up connection, a problem could originate from a variety of locations: a desktop application, a communications package, a modem, a WAN link, the receiving system’s modem, a remote access concentrator, a corporate LAN, a directory server, a backbone switch, a web server, or a web application.

Network administrators would like management tools that examine each of these components and determine which one is slowing down the connection. Instead, suppliers traditionally have delivered point solutions capable of examining only one component of a network connection. For instance, a router supplier will offer a tool for its products, and a server will work with another supplier’s product.

Under these conditions, a technician must examine all the equipment that could be having trouble servicing users’ requests (desktop PC, LAN, WAN, server), identify the faulty component, and then make the necessary upgrades. Because there are so many potential problem spots, this process slows problem resolution to a crawl and increases support costs.

Fortunately, vendors such as Computer Associates International of Islandia, N.Y.; Hewlett-Packard Co. of Cupertino, Calif.; and IBM’s Tivoli Division in Austin, Texas, have recognized the need for tools that consolidate management data in a single location and provide users with a clear view of end-to-end performance.

These vendors offer enterprise management systems that act as central clearinghouses for, and provide consistent interfaces to, management data. Cobb County School District has allocated $75 million during the next five years to keep pace with network growth, and this year some of that money will be used to purchase an enterprise management tool.

Avoiding bottlenecks

Even if a manager can ensure that network connections are working, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that a school’s network is functioning effectively. Students and administrators don’t want to sit idly at desktop computers waiting for information to arrive, so network administrators must ensure there is sufficient bandwidth to process transactions quickly.

Bottlenecks are becoming more common, for a couple of reasons. “The type of information students and administrators work with has changed from simple text documents to graphic and multimedia (sound and video) files,” said Bob Moore, network administrator for the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kan. Whereas text files may need only a few thousand bits per second (bps) of bandwidth to move from place to place, a multimedia file can require millions of bps.

Population growth can also wreak havoc with network planning. Each year, 15,000 families move into the Cobb County School District–and that means 2,000 more students will be added to the district’s network. “We know that a few new stress points will emerge each year, but we are just not sure where they will be,” Hibbert said.

The most common performance problems take place at the desktop or the backbone, which moves information to and from multiple users. To counter bottlenecks, vendors have delivered new networking techniques that offer more bandwidth. Ethernet has emerged as the dominant desktop connection, because it is easy to install, simple to manage, and cheaper than alternatives. Schools usually start out with shared Ethernet networks, where groups of users share one 10-Mbps LAN.

On a shared LAN, as the number of users rises, so does the volume of network traffic. Schools can solve this problem by dividing one LAN into multiple LANs, a process called segmentation. One 200-user LAN could be broken into two 100-user LANs or four 50-user networks. Switched Ethernet is the ultimate segmentation, because it provides each user with his own 10-Mbps connection, and this option is becoming quite popular.

Blue Valley School District has 16,000 students and about 5,500 Macs and PCs in 26 schools. A booming suburb that adds 800 students and one new school each year, the district had relied on shared Ethernet wiring hubs from 3Com Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., but has now begun moving to Cisco Ethernet switches. “We could not continue to rely on shared connections and service our users effectively,” Moore said.

Yet the Lee County School District in Fort Meyers, Fla., found that moving to a switched environment increases management chores. The district has 70 schools with 7,000 employees and students. Its desktop mix of about 70 percent PCs and 30 percent Macs led the district to select Ethernet wiring hubs from Asante Technologies of San Jose, Calif., a few years ago. “Asante offered the only hub that worked equally well with PCs or Macs,” said Ed Conowal, a network systems administrator for the district.

With its bandwidth requirements growing, the district has begun to install Ethernet switches. “While the switches give us more bandwidth, management can be difficult; we would like more management data built into every switching port,” Conowal said.

While many districts find switched 10-Mbps Ethernet sufficient for desktop connections, Hunterdon Central School District in Flemington, N.J., opted to install 100-Mbps links. “We are aggressively deploying leading-edge technology to enhance the learning experience,” said Roland Pare, director of information systems for the district. As evidence, the district’s 2,135 students, spread across six buildings, have 1,200 computers–a student-to-PC ratio of less than two to one.

Such high-speed links are usually limited to backbone connections. Three technologies have emerged to help schools circumvent backbone performance problems: Fast Ethernet, which operates at 100 Mbps; Gigabit Ethernet, which works at 1 Gbps; and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), which offers speeds from 155 Mbps to 2.4 Gbps.

Ethernet networks can be upgraded easily from a lower to a higher speed; the change usually requires only a minor alteration to a LAN’s switches. A school can often keep its adapter cards and network management tools in place.

Moving to ATM is a more jarring process: A school must install new adapter cards, switch connections, and network management software. Also, deploying ATM means that network technicians must learn the nuances of a new technology and oversee a few networking technologies rather than just one, which increases training and maintenance requirements. Finally, Ethernet products can cost as much as 50 percent less than ATM wares.

Yet many schools are opting for ATM. Three years ago, the Blue Valley School District completed a Request for Proposal’s to major data communications suppliers for a new backbone. “Most of the vendors were pushing Fast Ethernet, but we wanted to put ATM in,” Moore said.

The reason: ATM has well-defined Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities, an area where Ethernet now lags. “On an IP (internet protocol) network, a school can implement end-to-end QoS if it relies on one’s equipment at each point along a connection,” said William Fowler, education solutions manager at Cisco.

QoS is important when districts deploy multimedia applications that mix voice, video, and data transmissions. Ethernet was designed to carry data transmissions and is not ideally suited to video and voice communications. With Ethernet, information travels across a network in a random fashion. In a series of 10 packets, packet number eight may arrive before packet number six. The computer system at the receiving end shuffles the packets so the information is presented correctly to an end user.

Packet arrival order isn’t important with most applications, because the user doesn’t examine data at the instant it arrives. But that isn’t the case with multimedia applications. If packets arrive in an improper sequence, a picture may fluctuate or a voice may sound garbled. Because multimedia applications require information to arrive in sequence, companies are leery of running them on Ethernet networks.

A second problem is bandwidth connection. On an Ethernet network, bandwidth is parceled out on the fly. A user may begin sending a large file when no one else is using the network and the transmission will start out fine. A neighbor may start to access a database and the transmission could slow to a crawl. With a data file transfer, the only impact is the user has to sit and wait longer than he’d like to complete the transfer.

Interactive video and voice applications can’t tolerate such fluctuations. If two users are conversing and the available bandwidth shrinks, a transmission will jar or possibly break completely.

QoS solves these problems by opening up a clear communication line between two end points. Data move freely on this connection, regardless of how many other users may be using the network.

Since the Blue Valley School District anticipated its backbone would carry video and voice traffic along with data, the school opted for an ATM backbone. Because there were fiber lines between all its buildings, the district put together an ATM private network using Catalyst 5000 switches from Cisco, its primary network equipment supplier.

Hunterdon Central School District also is an advocate of ATM. In 1997, the district relied on Fiber Distributed Data Interfaces (a waning network option) to link its sites, but found the network, which operated at speeds of 100 Mbps, wasn’t fast enough. Students work with several multimedia programs–the district has 49 CD-ROM drives online–so the district decided ATM was the better option.

Filtering inappropriate content

In addition to bandwidth, the internet raises the issue of how schools can screen inappropriate content from students. “Students are so technically savvy that by fourth grade, they know how to get into just about any site on the internet,” said Dwight Code, technology coordinator and guidance counselor for the Harvard Public School District in Harvard, Neb.

Vendors have delivered a number of filtering tools to help school administrators block access to inappropriate sites. Client-side filtering applications reside on an individual workstation’s hard drive and operate in one of two ways. The most common places a list of inappropriate URLs that cannot be accessed by the computer without an override password. With the second approach, the opposite occurs: Users can only access those URLs contained in the filtering software.

Benefits of client-side filtering include the ability to block internet web sites, newsgroups, chat channels, personal information, words, and phrases. Most client-side filtering products also let users edit existing block lists, so they have the opportunity to customize lists.

One problem is that most client-side solutions don’t offer the schools an updated, easy-to-maintain database of blocked sites. Vendors offer updates (the frequency varies by supplier) either as part of a product upgrade or through web site downloads; both options can be tedious processes in large school districts. Another issue is that students might be able to disable such products. In fact, several web sites provide easy instructions for circumventing client-side solutions.

Server-based filtering solutions, on the other hand, reside on a network server that contains a list of blocked URLs and internet activities such as web chat, free eMail, bulletin boards, and newsgroup sites. All network internet traffic is routed through the server.

Installation and maintenance of server-based solutions is generally simpler than workstation options, because a technician deals only with one point on the network instead of individual connected workstations. Updating the list of blocked URLs is easier for the same reason.

Because filtering is conducted at the network level, as opposed to the workstation level, server-based filtering is less susceptible to being disabled by students or other technically savvy computer users. However, server-based filtering solutions are usually more expensive than client-side applications.

While easier for administrators, server-based filtering is sometimes less flexible for individual users. Filtering decisions often might be made on the administrator level, with little or no input from each school. However, certain server-based solutions provide some type of authorized override for teachers and approved individuals.

Because they are simpler to maintain, most schools opt for server-based systems. Hunterdon Central was impressed with the record tracking of its I Gear, a filtering tool from URLabs Inc., a Hampton, Va., software supplier.

“At the beginning of the year, I received a phone call from the local police–and an hour later, a visit from the Secret Service,” Pare said. “One of our students had posted a message threatening the president in a chat room. Within an hour, we knew who it was.”

Because maintaining a filtering package represents one more administrative chore for overworked network managers, vendors also offer services where they maintain the filtering software and a school passes all of its internet traffic through it. That option appealed to Harvard Public

School District, whose network administrator doubles as a guidance counselor. Last fall, the district took advantage of services from N2H2 Inc. of Seattle to prevent access to pornographic, violent, and hate group sites, such as the Ku Klux Klan’s web site.

But not all schools give the filtering tools high marks. “We’re not sure that the tools are sophisticated enough to block out only inappropriate materials,” said Cobb County’s Hibbert. “We fear they may block appropriate materials as well.”

Because of such concerns, a new type of filtering tool is emerging. In March, SmartStuff Software of Portland announced FoolProof Internet SafeFilter, which relies on a rules-based engine to examine content as it arrives on a machine. “The system has the ability to examine graphic and video information as well as text and determine whether it is suitable content,” said Richard Chapin, company founder.

Even though the tools are improving, the Blue Valley School District has no plans to put any filtering capabilities on its internet connections. “We are trying to position use of the internet in a positive rather than restrictive manner,” Moore said. The district has a policy that if students don’t work with information appropriately, they can be suspended.

Helping make such decisions becomes one more task for weary network administrators. While the growing list of chores presents many challenges, there are tremendous tangible benefits as well–such as seeing how their work helps students learn.

“Our network and computers are powerful tools, like a blackboard and chalk, that enable teachers to influence students,” Pare said. “Our job as administrators is to find ways to use them better.”

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States announce plans to spur professional development

In recent months, studies showing that technology training for teachers hasn’t kept pace with its expansion into the classroom have become commonplace. But three states in particular–Pennsylvania, Idaho, and South Dakota–have developed creative solutions to counter the problem.

Pennsylvania has awarded nearly $2 million in grants to spark the development of online professional development resources for educators. With funds from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, one-third of Idaho’s public school instructors will learn about teaching with technology in the next three years. And South Dakota is offering a free internet file server as incentive for administrators to attend the state’s Technology for Teaching and Learning Academy this summer.

The Pennsylvania grants, totaling $1.8 million, were given to eight colleges, intermediate units, and private education institutions to create high-quality, web-based professional development programs to assist teachers in implementing the state’s new academic standards.

“We are working to use new technologies, such as CD-ROM and the web, to deliver training, given the geographic size of Pennsylvania and the travel that is often required for training,” said John Bailey, director of the state’s Office of Educational Technology.

Pennsylvania’s new academic standards, which went into effect in January, outline what students should know by the end of grades three, five, eight, and 11. Student and school progress will be measured with state assessment tests aligned with the new standards. Technology standards, which are under review by the state board of education, will also be included.

Grants were awarded to projects using technology to expand teacher access and create permanent electronic resources for professional development. Penn State University, for example, received $67,000 to create a “virtual workspace” for teachers to plan, develop, share, and publish standards-based instruction. Berks County Intermediate Unit received $200,000 to create a web site that incorporates lessons, assessments, units of instruction, and training materials.

Idaho, meanwhile, will use part of an $80 million grant from the Albertson Foundation to launch a three-year Teaching with Technology initiative. By the end of the project, more than a third of the state’s teachers will have received technology training.

The state has partnered with Human Code, a Texas-based interactive technology company, to provide the training. The program includes a week-long summer session with teachers, a peer review during the school year, and a showcase of successful practices during the summer of 2000.

Besides training, the project will provide at least 30 new high-tech classrooms in schools across the state over the next three years. These “model classrooms” will serve as hubs for a sophisticated videoconferencing network that will be used to deliver the training and will also be available for use during the school year, according to David Palumbo, Human Code’s vice president of learning technologies.

The first workshops in the Teaching with Technology series will kick off with 900 teachers in 15 locations by the end of June. Human Code will design and build the high-tech classroom environments, which will be located within existing elementary, middle, and high schools in each region of the state.

Not to be outdone, South Dakota will run its own teacher training sessions this summer. When school starts next fall, South Dakota’s Technology for Teaching and Learning Academy–now in its third year–will have trained more than 2,000 of the state’s 9,000 classroom teachers.

As an incentive for school leaders to participate in the training, Gov. Bill Janklow promised that all schools sending an administrator to the academy in Rapid City this summer will receive a new file server for their districts, courtesy of the state.

Savvy school leaders, coupled with the completion of a statewide school wiring program in the next few months, will give South Dakota the tools for success in the next century, Janklow said.

“That’s when things get exciting,” he said. “Where we have always trailed the world economically, we don’t have an excuse in the world that starts in 2000.”

Pennsylvania Department of Education

http://www.pde.psu.edu

Idaho Department of Education

http://www.sde.state.id.us/Dept

J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation

http://www.jkaf.org

Human Code

http://www.humancode.com

South Dakota Home Page

http://www.state.sd.us

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Best Practices-Internet: Students in four cities simulate a NASA mission

The robotic vehicle tooling around the dry, rocky landscape on a recent spring day might not have been capturing images of Mars, but it might as well have been. And the people remotely controlling the vehicle and viewing those images via internet and satellite transmissions might not have been NASA scientists, but they sure felt like they were.

On this day, Mars was really an ancient lake bed in Southern California’s Mojave Desert. And the scientists behind the controls? They were actually high school students from as near as Los Angeles and as far away as upstate New York.

Students in four cities–Los Angeles, Phoenix, Ithaca, N.Y., and St. Louis (LAPIS for short)–were selected to participate in the field testing of NASA’s newest Mars exploration vehicle, called FIDO, or Field Integrated Design and Operations rover.

“It’s important to excite young people about space exploration and discovery, and these tests provide an excellent educational opportunity,” said Dr. Raymond Arvidson, a geologist at Washington University in St. Louis and mission director for the NASA rover field tests.

FIDO–a 150-pound, $150 million vehicle–is a prototype for the rovers that NASA plans to use in actual missions early next century. The rover development and Mars missions are being managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

The participating schools were Bellmont and Marshall high schools in Los Angeles, Highland High School in Phoenix, Lansing High School in Ithaca, and the Mary Institute St. Louis Country Day School.

The students planned, carried out, and archived their own FIDO mission using the internet.

The LAPIS team had two months to prepare for their two-day mission, conducted April 28 and 29. Their preparation included extensive training on the telemetry software they would later use to send commands to FIDO.

Called Web Interface for Telescience (WITS), the state-of-the-art, web-based commanding tool will be used by NASA scientists to direct a Mars rover during real missions scheduled for the years 2003 and 2005.

“The most unique thing about this project is that the students are truly involved in cutting edge technology–the same technology that will be used in actual NASA missions,” said Nathan Peck, science department chairman of the St. Louis Country Day School.

But the LAPIS team had a mission of its own to accomplish. They were to be the first students ever to get the chance to remotely operate a real NASA/JPL rover.

While some of the students were on-site to document the field test, others set up mission controls in their classrooms.

From Hollywood to Ithaca, the students logged on to the internet and took turns using WITS to control the rover. Various high-tech cameras relayed images from the desert floor back to the students–just as they will relay images back to Earth when a rover actually explores the surface of Mars.

The students tested FIDO’s capability to travel over different types of terrain. They looked for evidence of fossils on the dry lake bed using a microscopic imager and explored the area beyond the test site using FIDO’s panoramic camera.

Students in each city had specific responsibilities for the LAPIS mission.

The Los Angeles students were responsible for the on-site field documentation of the FIDO tests. The Phoenix students managed the program’s educational outreach activities. The Ithaca students developed the mission plan, and the St. Louis students maintain the LAPIS web site and field test data archives.

Peck said the entire mission will be chronicled on CD-ROM for distribution to other schools.

FIDO Science Server

http://wundow.wustl.edu/rover

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov

LAPIS Student Mission

http://wufs.wustl.edu/teamlapis

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On-demand professional development comes via satellite: Educational Resources provides training-on-demand through a satellite link to your schools

Satellite-powered on-demand professional development is being made available to schools by an Elgin, Ill., company called Educational Resources, best known as one of the nation’s leading educational software resellers. The company’s on-demand solution lets teachers access a number of video training modules from a desktop computer at any time.

“This model of staff development supports teachers,” said Robin Weber, product manager. “It’s available throughout the day, so teachers can view the materials at their convenience. It also saves schools from having to coordinate staff development around their teachers’ schedules.”

One of the biggest challenges to staff professional development in schools is finding the time to schedule it, Weber said. On-demand professional development not only solves this problem, but also lets teachers learn at their own pace.

On-demand training uses digital satellite technology to deliver compressed video and data files containing training modules to schools. The satellite technology allows the quick delivery of high-quality files that would take hours to deliver over the internet.

The information is stored on a content server connected to a school’s local area network. Teachers and other staff members use an on-screen menu to select desired training modules, which are then streamed to the desktop for viewing. Video can be accessed from any client PC or Macintosh computer.

The company’s training modules cover the leading applications used in schools, including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Office; FileMaker Pro; ClarisWorks; HyperStudio; and instructional applications of digital cameras and scanners. Each module contains four skill levels, from beginner to mentor, and covers not only how to use an application, but also how to apply it in the classroom.

The training programs are organized to accommodate different learning styles, Weber said. They’re flexible enough so users can work through a module step by step or randomly access information. An integration strand also offers cross-curricular ideas for collaborative learning in a technology-rich environment.

A special feature of the Educational Resources solution is the ability to participate in an electronic mentoring program through interactive sessions with experts in the field. Periodically, teachers can participate in live mentoring sessions via satellite with experts, including technology guru Alan November, Weber said.

The City of Niagara Falls School District in New York uses the company’s on-demand staff training to give teachers in its 15 buildings the opportunity for professional development any time, anywhere. The district’s teachers can stream video training modules to a desktop computer or TV and can videotape them and bring them home to watch at night or on weekends.

New York requires 175 hours of in-service training for teachers over a period of three to five years, said Larry Martinez, Niagara Falls’ educational technology administrator. Given teachers’ busy schedules, he said, “we see on-demand training as the only real option for in-service training to meet these goals.”

Consultants from Educational Resources will visit a school district to assess its needs and develop a customized solution, Weber said. The company will provide and install the satellite dish and content server if necessary, wiring them to a school’s existing local area network. Costs vary according to a district’s needs, Weber said.

Educational Resources

http://www.edresources.com

City of Niagara Falls School District

http://www.niagara.k12.ny.us

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Gore unveils plan to link parents with internet safety resources: His

Vice President Al Gore has unveiled a plan to make the internet a safer place for your students when they’re at home. Called “One Click Away,” the plan makes safety resources readily accessible from the major portals that families use to get online.

Reacting to the Colorado school shooting, which sparked a national debate about the internet’s role in the tragedy, Gore announced on May 5 that several of the nation’s leading internet players have agreed to make readily available tools for parents to protect their children while they’re surfing the internet.

Under the agreement, internet companies will include on their home pages a link to a new web site featuring a long list of aids for parents and teachers.

The Parents’ Protection Page will include a “guide to good content,” which will allow parents and children to access safe and educational web sites instantly.

Parents will have access to blocking and filtering software and will be able to monitor the web sites and chat rooms their children have visited. They’ll even be able to limit the amount of time children spend online.

The Parents’ Protection Page also will contain information for parents, teachers, and children on how to report online crimes or suspicious behavior.

Most of these resources should be available on the new site in July.

“We understand the internet’s stunning technology gives children and families access to an incredible world of information and, like life itself, most of it is great, but there are some dark corners,” Gore said. “There are some free-fire zones and red light districts in cyberspace from which children must be protected.”

Many of the internet’s biggest players have agreed to the plan, including America Online, AT&T, At Home Network, Bell Atlantic, Commercial Internet eXchange, Disney Online, Excite, Lycos, MCI WorldCom, Microsoft, MindSpring Enterprises, Netscape Communications, Network Solutions, Prodigy Communications, and Yahoo.

Gore said the web sites and portals run by these companies account for 95 percent of all internet traffic.

While the resources to be offered on the Parents’ Protection Page are not new–and though many web sites already promote child safety–backers of the initiative say the link from major internet sites and the push from the vice president could help spur parents to get more involved in their children’s online activities.

A survey conducted in February by the market research firm Greenfield Online found that when it comes to internet use in the home, parents tend to take a strict approach for children under age 11. But once children reach age 12, most are allowed to “go online whenever they feel like it” and with little or no supervision.

The internet’s role in the Littleton massacre has been hotly debated since the April 20 shooting spree.

In a Gallup poll taken just one day after the tragedy, respondents placed nearly as much blame on the internet as the easy accessibility of guns. According to the Gallup poll, 82 percent of the 659 adult respondents said the internet was at least partly to blame for the Littleton tragedy, while 88 percent said the same was true of gun availability.

Another new survey, this one conducted several months before the shootings, found that parents of school-aged children have something of a Jekyll-and-Hyde view of the internet.

The report, commissioned by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and released May 4, found that parents of school-aged kids are “deeply fearful about the web’s influence on their children.”

The study showed that over 75 percent of parents are “strongly” or “somewhat” concerned that their children might view inappropriate web content. Two-thirds agreed that the internet can cause their children to become isolated, and 42 percent believe too much internet use can cause children to develop anti-social behavior.

At the same time, however, parents believe the internet to be an important educational tool and something that can help their children with homework.

“We found this incredible conflict,” commented Joseph Turow, who wrote the Annenberg report. “People trust their kids with the internet, but they don’t trust the internet with their kids.”

The Jekyll-and-Hyde persona the internet has developed was perhaps never more evident than it was following the Littleton shooting–a good-versus-evil conflict not lost on Gore.

As the vice president pointed out, the perpetrators at Columbine High School used the internet to create and spread messages of hate. But at the same time, the internet played a valuable role in connecting the Littleton community to people who had experienced similar tragedies in other parts of the country.

And in the aftermath of the Columbine school shooting, Gore said, “too many parents feel now that they’re faced with a false choice–between unplugging that computer in the family room, or spending every single moment looking over their child’s shoulder.”

The vice president is hoping to give parents a third choice with the Parents’ Protection Page.

Annenberg Public Policy Center

http://www.appcpenn.org

Greenfield Online

http://www.greenfieldcentral.com

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eSN Exclusive: Keeping schools safe with technology

L ast month, when bullets were found in a trash can at East Carter

High School in Grayson, Ky., on a Friday afternoon, officials

took no chances. The following Monday, police used hand-held metal detectors to search students and staff members as they entered the building.

“We thought it might be a prank, or someone’s way of sending a message,” said Jim Johnson, the district’s personnel director. “We also thought someone might have put them in their pocket accidently and decided to get rid of them.”

It’s also possible that a student might have been keeping the ammunition in a locker, Johnson added. Students were told their lockers would be searched over the weekend.

East Carter High School was not alone in its concern. In the aftermath of the shootings that left 15 people dead in Littleton, Colo., in April, schools from nearly every state have reported similar accounts. Incidents have ranged from students sending eMail threats or bringing guns to school, to four Texas boys plotting a bomb attack on their middle school, to another tragedy at a high school in Alberta, Canada.

Educators agree that the copycat phenomenon in the wake of the Columbine High rampage has been broader and more frightening than usual. The resulting hysteria has prompted school officials to tighten security and reevaluate their districts’ safety initiatives as the school year winds to a close.

Fortunately, there’s money available for school safety programs. The federal government’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention this year launched a $300 million program to provide safer learning environments for children.

Fifty partnerships between school districts, law enforcement agencies, and local mental health authorities will receive up to $3 million a year for three years to link existing and new services into a comprehensive, community-wide approach to violence prevention. Activities that can be funded by this grant include after-school programs and the purchase of security systems.

Some states also are providing grant money. The Pennsylvania legislature has approved a bill to give its schools $22 million in grants to develop safety measures. And a bill that would give $42 million to Illinois schools to install metal detectors and take other security steps over the next three years won House support and was awaiting Gov. George H. Ryan’s approval at press time.

From helping school leaders assess their needs through the use of incident profiling software, to securing buildings through the intelligent use of metal detectors or surveillance equipment, to providing aid in a crisis situation through the use of cell phones or 911 hotlines, technology can play a significant role in a school district’s safety program. In this special report, you’ll learn how colleagues are using technologies like these to help keep their schools safe.

Assessing needs

When former Greensboro, N.C., assistant police chief Bob Bateman became the school safety administrator for Guilford County Schools, he found it was hard to gather any meaningful data on campus incidents throughout the district, which encompasses 94 of the state’s 2,000 schools and about 61,000 total students.

The system the district was using at the time “basically consisted of a paper report and a spreadsheet,” Bateman said. “It gave you the raw data, but that was all.”

Bateman wanted to collect information about incidents that occurred not only in school, but also at bus stops and off-campus events.

“Our local law enforcement agencies are very good–but no matter how good the police are, they collect different information in different formats,” Bateman said. “This made it hard for us to get a consolidated report, tailored for a school system, to track crimes and report them to the state Department of Public Instruction.”

But reporting incidents wasn’t Bateman’s only concern. He also wanted comprehensive data he could use to analyze trends and help decide where best to allocate the district’s limited resources to prevent future crimes. And he wanted technology to help him do the job.

Working with a Greensboro-based company called GBA Systems, Bateman and the Guilford County Schools helped develop an incident-profiling software system called SSP2000. The software, which is now used by districts in five states, helps school officials track crime incidents and behavior factors across several variables in order to anticipate and address potential crime before it occurs.

“Recording these incidents over time, you can begin to see trends that help you identify where and how to allocate resources, inform teachers, and so on,” said Kathi Dubel, director of marketing for GBA Systems. “It’s a tool to help schools address campus crime proactively instead of reactively.”

The software lets you record the nature of an incident, where it occurred, what time of day it occurred, whether any weapons were involved, what disciplinary action was taken, and demographic information about the victims and perpetrators involved, including age, gender, race, and grade level.

This information is collected in searchable fields, so if you only want to view data on the eighth grade, or on after-school fights, you can isolate these variables and produce a list. “You can slice and dice the information any way you want to,” Dubel said.

Bateman said the software has made his job a lot easier and has allowed him to make intelligent, informed decisions about security. Working with principal Jules Crowell, for example, he was able to use the software to help reduce the occurrence of fights at Ferndale Middle School.

Crowell’s impression was that he was having the greatest problem with fights in the cafeteria. But when officials looked up his school’s profile in the system, they discovered most incidents had occurred in the school’s hallways. By installing a few well-positioned security cameras and increasing staff visibility in the hallways, Crowell was able to solve the problem.

“If you’re trying to keep up with a thousand students, it’s impossible to rely on your memory alone,” Bateman said. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s not try to do what we think we need to do, let’s target the problem specifically.'”

The software resides on a district server, and presently data is entered only at the central location. But Bateman said the next version of the software will allow each principal or school resource officer to access the system and enter or retrieve information themselves: “That’s what we’re drooling over.”

A single site license for the software is $1,000, and district licensing depends on the number of school buildings, Dubel said.

Recognizing warning signs

With a few keystrokes, Wausau, Wis., school administrator Shawn Sullivan searched a computer database for the listing on an eighth-grade boy who had sent threatening eMail to his teachers.

“Ha. Ha. Laughter in your face, you’re dead,” one of the messages read.

Sullivan, an assistant principal at John Muir Middle School, had something to add. He posted a note for other agencies to read, explaining he had just met with the boy to discuss his recent tardiness and some failing grades. The boy’s reason for the problems, Sullivan wrote: “Just lazy.”

Sullivan was participating in a joint program to keep track of students with potential problems–and hopefully to intervene before another act of violence rocks the nation.

In cooperation with local police, juvenile courts, the county sheriff’s department, and the state Department of Social Services, the Wausau School District has launched an innovative computer monitoring program that focuses on its most at-risk youths: those who have been in trouble numerous times, for everything from drug abuse or theft to sexual assault.

A computer database, with about 90 names so far and growing, links the agencies together so they can share information on troubled kids. District officials can log in to scan the names and add their own updates.

By using the electronic bulletin board, “we get an idea of the kids who can be dangerous based on previous behaviors–kids we can direct more resources toward,” Sullivan said.

According to Dave Damgaard, the district’s director of pupil services, the idea for the project came out of a Serious Habitual Offender Comprehensive Action Program (SHOCAP) conference that district officials attended four years ago.

“The idea is that all of these agencies have information on kids, but a lot of times one agency doesn’t know what’s been going on with a kid at the other agencies,” Damgaard explained. A school district might not know that a student has been arrested for assault, for example, or a probation officer might not know that a student is failing his classes. By sharing information, the agencies have a clearer picture of each student’s problems.

Starting the database “was actually quite easy,” Damgaard said. “It turned out we could use the county data center as a central spot, because most agencies already kept records on the county’s (computer) system.”

All that is required of the district to tap into the database is a dedicated phone line and modem to get online, and emulator software to emulate the county’s computer system, Damgaard said.

Child Court Services initiates the files in the database. When a student appears before juvenile court, his or her information is added to the database to be tracked by the other agencies. An assistant principal at each of the district’s two middle and two high schools is granted secure access to the database for monitoring students and posting new information about them.

Confidentiality was the biggest roadblock the district faced in launching the project, Damgaard said. Wausau had to receive permission from the Wisconsin state legislature to allow local law enforcement officers to exchange information with its schools. When a student appears before juvenile court, the judge must get a parent or guardian to sign a release form so the schools can have access to the information.

But knowing who the at-risk kids are and what they’ve been up to might allow schools to intervene in time to prevent potential violence, Sullivan said.

“To me, it’s a benefit in that everybody who’s involved with this child is being kept up to date,” he said. “This alerts us to the problems going on, so kids don’t fall down through the cracks in the school system. The key is to have the collaboration and support from each agency to put (a project like) this together.”

Wausau’s electronic bulletin board can help school officials recognize the early warning signs of violence, but often students themselves are the first to learn of threats or suspect their classmates might be capable of violence. Recognizing that students often are the first to recognize warning signs, many schools are setting up toll-free hotlines for students to report their suspicions anonymously.

About a week after the Columbine High shootings, the Mississippi Department of Education announced it would have a toll-free hotline available this fall for Mississippi schools. The hotline will be a joint effort between the departments of education and public safety, and Regina Ginn, director of the state’s safe schools office, said rewards will be offered for hotline tips that bring results.

For school districts in states that don’t operate their own hotlines, a Columbus, Ohio, company called Security Voice Inc. offers such a service to schools for a fee. When someone calls the hotline, the information is transcribed and faxed to the affected school. The caller is assigned a code number and is asked to call back in three days after the situation has been investigated.

In cases that sound serious, such as a report of someone bringing a weapon to school, the affected school would be notified immediately, and the principal would decide what further action might be necessary, such as calling the police.

Explaining how the hotline works, a Mason, Ohio, school official cited an incident involving an impending schoolyard brawl. A call came in from someone in Warren County about a fight about to take place on a campus in the Mason City Schools, 20 miles north of Cincinnati. Forewarned, the principal put a stop to the trouble.

“The principal was able to follow up on the situation, which is nice because he wouldn’t have been able to know about it otherwise,” said Shelly Beneath, Mason district spokeswoman. “I think if you prevent one incident, it’s a success.”

“If you do some research,” said Jim Jones, a spokesman for Security Voice, “in almost every case of school violence, there was someone in that school who knew beforehand that something was going on, but they were afraid to tell someone or didn’t know who to tell.”

Pat Sullivan, Security Voice president, said his company began by supplying the hotline service to business customers. In January 1997, Security Voice extended its service to schools when it launched the Safe School hotline as a pilot at Reynoldsburg City Schools in Ohio.

Today, more than 1,000 districts nationwide are participating, Sullivan said–including the entire state of Oklahoma, whose superintendent of public instruction contracted with Security Voice to offer Safe School to Oklahoma districts last fall. The state is using federal “Safe and Drug-Free School” funds to cover the service’s expense.

Safe School costs 15 cents per student per month, Sullivan said, and the company only charges for students in grades 7-12. “At $1.80 per student per year, that’s a tiny fraction of the budget for each student,” he said. “To put it in perspective, the state of Ohio pays $4,800 per student per year for public education.”

The hotline also can be used to put a stop to drugs, gang activity, violence, or harassment, he said. “Most kids don’t want to take the chance of doing something they know is wrong if they think someone watching might report them,” he said.

As part of its service, Security Voice provides posters and information to parents about the hotline. Because it’s an 800 number, Sullivan said, it doesn’t support called ID and therefore guarantees a caller’s anonymity.

Securing buildings

A day after Kentucky’s East Carter High School used hand-held metal detectors to search students and staff members for weapons, Carter County Superintendent Larry Prichard reported that the searches had caused no major problems or delays.

East Carter High School is no stranger to violence. In 1993, a 17-year-old honor student brought a gun into his sixth-period English class and fatally shot his teacher and a custodian who’d come into the room to investigate. Taking no chances, Prichard said the metal detector searches would continue for the remainder of the school year.

Students are required to line up outside the gymnasium doors to be searched before entering the building. Four city police officers conducted the searches the first day, but district officials said that school personnel would be trained to use the devices and would conduct the searches for the rest of the year.

According to Pamela Riley, executive director of North Carolina State University’s Center for the Prevention of School Violence, hand-held metal detectors have become a fairly common tool for keeping weapons out of school buildings.

“Anecdotally, I know many assistant principals appreciate having these ‘wands’ on hand if there’s a suspicion that a student might be carrying a gun,” Riley said.

Along with electronic surveillance systems, metal detectors have increasingly become part and parcel of a school’s safety program. But the use of these and other high-tech security devices in schools can be a sticky issue, as schools must balance a legitimate desire for security with a potential for unwarranted intrusion.

About 66 percent of North Carolina’s schools use metal detectors, Riley said. Nationally, though, less than one percent of schools use metal detectors on a daily basis, according to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Before you rush to buy metal detectors, there are several points to consider, said Virginia-based security consultant Alan Matchett.

“Metal detectors are just the tip of the iceberg for security,” Matchett said. For example, if you install walk-through metal detectors–or even use hand-held devices to perform comprehensive searches like those by East Carter High School–all entrances into the school must be restricted so weapons can’t be brought in through other doors or windows. That means other doors must become emergency exits, Matchett said, and all doors but the one monitored and all windows with outside access must be kept locked or must be wired to sound an alarm if they are opened.

The situation can become thorny if students must enter and exit the building frequently. “If students exit the building anytime during the day, they must pass through a metal detector again when they come back in,” Matchett said. “Therefore, detectors must also be set up for physical education classes if they go outside.”

The biggest issue to consider, however, is the reaction of parents, teachers, and students. If the community doesn’t support the technology, Matchett warned, “the school can become a very tense and volatile place for all.”

Surveillance cameras, like metal detectors, can be useful tools for keeping buildings secure–provided they meet a school’s needs and are supported by the community.

Russell Tedesco, director of security for Prince George’s County Schools in Maryland, is a firm believer in school surveillance. When Tedesco took over the position in 1997, each of the county’s 20 high schools had closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. Tedesco convinced the county to spend an additional $300,000 to upgrade the system, and he applied for a grant from the Bureau of Justice and Administration to install cameras in the schools’ parking lots.

“CCTV provides another set of eyes for the administration,” he explained. “Cameras can be where personnel can’t be all the time, simply because we lack the manpower.” Tedesco said the cameras even helped solve a robbery at a county high school a few years ago.

Not every school official shares Tedesco’s enthusiasm, however. Chuck Hibbert, security coordinator for the Wayne Township Metro School District in Indiana, offered this word of caution: “One of the things we must guard against is letting national trends” drive local decisions, he said.

Hibbert said surveillance has become generally accepted among private sector employers, and he thinks this acceptance is spilling over into schools. But if you’re thinking about electronic surveillance, Hibbert cautioned, it’s imperative that your community supports the idea.

School surveillance also can raise several legal issues, according to Matchett. The Supreme Court has consistently held that there is no “reasonable expectation” of privacy in public places, he said. This line of reasoning presumably would permit television surveillance in many school areas. But Matchett warned this rule does not apply to conversations, which are still considered private. He advised anyone considering surveillance to steer clear from audio recording.

Bathroom stalls and showers also are considered private, he said, but there are several places in schools–such as locker rooms and the sink area of bathrooms–that are less clearly defined. Placing cameras where they might identify special-needs children could also pose a problem, he noted. To avoid violating students’ rights, Matchett recommended that surveillance be limited to hallways, classrooms, and exits.

Another sticky issue: What becomes of the images caught on video tape? There are no clear laws to regulate the storage and use of surveillance tapes, security experts said. Digital technology now makes it possible to store such information almost indefinitely–a fact that has some school officials worried about images that could get into the wrong hands.

“Control of the system and the tapes should be restricted,” warned Matchett. “[They] should only be accessible to the designated security director or to a senior staff member of the school.”

Electronic surveillance and metal detectors can take a huge chunk of your technology budget. Peter Blauvelt, president of the National Alliance for Safe Schools, recommended you do some self-assessment to determine just what kind of problems you’re trying to solve before you invest in any equipment.

“I’m really against going out and spending hard-earned dollars–education dollars–for a surveillance system and having it not do what it was supposed to do,” he said.

Hibbert agreed that surveillance often is unnecessary. There are other cautionary steps you should take first that may eliminate the need for surveillance, he said. Make sure all areas are well-lit and doors have good locks–you might want to consider electronic locks. Keep time between classes to a minimum. And encourage teachers and building administrators to maintain a high profile.

Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, underscored the importance of staff visibility. “The most effective strategy in keeping schools safe,” he said, “is the presence of an adult where young people are.”

Responding to a crisis

When news of the Columbine High shootings broke, the world watched as students trapped inside the building used cellular phones to call for help. One student even used a cell phone to call a local TV station before calling an emergency number.

Communication is vital in a crisis situation–yet many classrooms don’t have phones of any kind and have trouble communicating with the main office, let alone police. Portable classrooms are especially vulnerable, since often these temporary facilities are cut off from the main school building. Many schools are finding that wireless phones provide a quick and easy solution to communications problems.

In response to the Columbine tragedy, AirTouch Cellular of San Francisco said it would donate $7 million worth of phones and air time to teachers in the 456 high schools of Sacramento, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties. The phones will give teachers a way to call police quickly if violence suddenly breaks out, California Gov. Gray Davis said in a May 4 press conference announcing the donation.

“A simple cell phone can be the difference between tragedy and the avoidance of tragedy,” Davis said.

The phones, which are only to be used in an emergency, will be programmed to call an emergency number with one touch. That number, which could reach school police or local police or sheriff’s offices, can be determined by local school districts. AirTouch will pay the $1 million cost of the phones, plus three years of airtime worth about $2 million a year, according to the governor’s office.

Beyond clear and accessible channels of communication, schools also need to have a clear plan for reacting to a crisis situation. Some states have developed statewide crisis plans, while others, such as Indiana, require schools to write and submit their own detailed crisis plan each year.

CommCore Consulting Group of Washington, D.C., has developed a tool to help schools and other organizations write, implement, and manage a comprehensive crisis plan. After the Columbine shootings, CommCore president Andy Gilman said the company would make its Crisis Plan wRiter (CPR) software available to schools at cost.

“If cost is a reason for schools not to use this, then I want to take that away,” Gilman said.

With CPR, school districts can choose a crisis team, assign roles and responsibilities, identify and monitor potential issues, define specific policies, and create a crisis-response procedure that is specific to their needs.

“The whole goal of CPR is to plan for anything that could happen,” Gilman said. “There are other tools out there, but this puts it all on a server for remote access online.”

CPR makes it easy for a district to update and maintain its crisis plan, Gilman said, because all data fields are linked. Information only has to be changed in one location, and the change will be reflected automatically in the appropriate places.

CPR retails for $1,200 but will be available to a school district for $150, Gilman said. A demonstration version of the software can be downloaded from the company’s web site.

Guilford County Schools

http://www.guilford.k12.nc.us

Wausau School District

http://www.wausau.k12.wi.us

Mississippi Department of Education

http://mdek12.state.ms.us

Carter County School District

http://www.carter.k12.ky.us

Center for the Prevention of

School Violence

http://www.ncsu.edu/cpsv

Prince George’s County Schools

http://pgs.k12.va.us

National Alliance for Safe Schools

http://www.safeschools.org

National School Safety Center

http://www.nssc1.org

AirTouch Cellular

http://www.west.airtouch.com

GBA Systems

http://www.gbasys.com

Security Voice Inc.

http://securityvoice.com

Comm Core Consulting Group

http://www.commcoreconsulting.com

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Expelling student for web site threats lands Pennsylvania district in court

A Lehigh Valley, Penn., judge has agreed to consider a lawsuit filed last year by the family of an eighth-grader expelled from school for allegedly threatening a teacher on his personal web site. The suit highlights the balancing act schools must perform between protecting students’ rights to free speech and protecting their communities from potential violence.

Justin Swidler, now 15, was expelled in August after Bethlehem Area School District officials saw his web site, in which he allegedly asked for donations to hire a hit man to kill Nitschmann Middle School math teacher Kathleen Fulmer. Swidler’s family describes the site as an attempt at satirical humor, not a terroristic threat.

The since-dismantled site reportedly had a heading saying “Why She Should Die” above a sentence reading, “Take a look at the diagram and the reasons I give, then give me $20 to help pay a hit man.”

“What he did was not good,” said his father, Dr. Howard Swidler, an emergency-room physician. “We don’t condone that. He was punished for what he did. But this was a home issue–not a school issue.”

The lawsuit filed by Howard Swidler and his wife, Ilene, seeks to have the expulsion overturned, reimbursement for private-school tuition, and damages. A judge agreed to consider the lawsuit May 4.

“It may have been a big joke to (the teen), but the teacher felt that she was harmed by this threat,” said Jeffrey T. Tucker, a lawyer for the school district. “The intention is irrelevant. It is the effect that is important.”

Zero tolerance

The lawsuit comes at a time when school districts are particularly sensitive to threats of violence. In the wake of the Littleton, Colo., shootings, hundreds of copycat threats at schools across the country have led many districts to adopt “zero tolerance” policies toward threats–whether they are made on the internet or in person.

Bethlehem school officials maintain they acted properly last year because the teen violated the district’s code of conduct by threatening and maligning Mrs. Fulmer and principal A. Thomas Kartsotis.

But Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said he didn’t charge the teen with making terroristic threats because Pennsylvania law requires proof that the defendant meant to communicate the threat to the victim. He said the web site had a message warning employees of the school district not to enter it.

A string of high-profile lawsuits during the past year has sent the message that school districts can’t discipline their students for what they say on a personal web page created outside of school on a home computer. Most recently, a federal judge ruled in December that Woodland School District in Marble Hill, Mo., violated a student’s free speech rights when it suspended him for criticizing teachers and using profanity on his web site.

Direct threats are another matter, since they aren’t protected under the First Amendment. But proving that Swidler had intent to carry out the threats could be difficult for Bethlehem officials.

Howard Swidler said his son had the web site up for six weeks before school officials found out about it. When he learned they had, the father said, the teen took down the site.

“My son was a model student before this,” the father said. “He was an honors student, on the math team, and in the band. There were no disciplinary problems, and he got straight A’s in the third marking period.”

The father and family lawyer Robert E. Sletvold both said it is unfair to link the teen to the massacre in Littleton. Sletvold said the teen’s web page had none of “the dark and sinister” elements said to be on gunman Eric Harris’ web page.

Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said the internet is creating new questions in terms of a school district’s limits to intervene in cases where there may be the threat of violence.

“If they’re going to err, schools should err on the side of being overly cautious,” Houston said. But he also recommended that districts turn internet threats over to local police as a matter for them to handle, rather than taking it upon themselves to discipline students.

In response to the Bethlehem case, the Pennsylvania state Senate voted in March to broaden the state’s laws against threats and harassment to include those made over the internet. At press time, the legislation was pending in the state House of Representatives.

Bethlehem Area School District

http://www.beth.k12.pa.us

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From the Publisher: The evil before ‘Doom’

Let’s get one thing straight. Horrendously awful as it was, the Columbine tragedy in Littleton, Colo., was not — repeat, was not — the worst school massacre in American history. That dreadful distinction is held by Bath, Mich., about 100 miles west of Detroit.

The Bath disaster — which claimed the lives of 45 people, including 38 elementary school students and the superintendent — occurred on May 18, 1927. It was perpetrated by a school board member — Andrew Kehoe, whom newspapers of the day dubbed the “maniac bomber.”

Enraged over school taxes levied against his property, Kehoe killed his wife, burned his farm, then drove to school in his pickup truck and, while school was in session, detonated dynamite he had planted throughout the two-story building. Minutes later, he blew up his pickup truck, killing himself and two men trying to detain him, including the superintendent.

This nod to history is not intended to diminish the calamity in Colorado, but merely to lend some perspective to the discussion of school violence, a phenomenon many contemporary commentators seem to think arose only in our own complicated era.

Much of the conversation from the talking heads of the chattering class has sought to explain a specific tragedy by reference to the general temper and artifacts of our times. If it weren’t for “Doom,” “Basketball Diaries,” semi-automatic weapons, eMail, working mothers, or the world wide web, they seem to say, these awful, “unprecedented” school tragedies wouldn’t keep happening.

In simpler, less politically correct times, people and the press tended to talk about a “maniac,” a particular, unique individual who was responsible for a specific act. Plain evil was a more palpable concept then, something more to be guarded against than endlessly analyzed.

As the initial struggle to understand what happened at Columbine has inexorably and inevitably decayed into predictable, factional, partisan sniping, it seems sadly clear that the genuine answers won’t come from the White House, Congress, NRA, ACLU, CNN, or eSchool News. Genuine understanding, in fact, might never come at all.

Nevertheless, it’s up to you to safeguard yourself and the colleagues and kids in your charge. With eMail and hate sites on the web, technology, indeed, can make your job more difficult. But, as you’ll see when you turn to page 11 in this issue, it can be a powerful ally, too.

As the search for ultimate answers proceeds apace at the national level, local action is really what’s required. As usual, the buck actually stops with you.

To provide what help we can, the editors and writers of eSchool News, expertly orchestrated by News Editor Dennis Pierce, have pulled together a summation of some of the most promising safety and security measures technology can provide.

None of it, of course, will replace the human intervention, care, and concern only you can supply in your schools. Still, if you have better tools, you’ll be better able to do everything humanly possible to prevent sudden, inexplicable evil from hurting those you care about.

Be careful out there.

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School bus scofflaws risk ‘candid camera’ convictions: Digital video cameras record drivers who pass a stopped school bus illegally

School officials in Will County, Illinois, are working with traffic safety officials and a local engineering firm to develop a video camera that would identify motorists who illegally drive around stopped school buses. The experimental video system–which will be tested on the county’s buses this fall–is unlike anything available on the market right now, local officials said.

“This is an opportunity to do something that nobody else is doing,” said Richard Duran, regional school superintendent. “If we can make it work here, we are setting up a model for the nation.”

The device is intended to discourage drivers from passing a school bus that has its stop arm extended. According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 10 children are killed each year when drivers fail to stop for school buses.

“We’re hoping it will create a general deterrent effect” and increase the safety of schoolchildren, said Tanya Shipley, traffic safety program coordinator for the Will County Governmental League, which initiated the project in 1996. “If people still continue to violate the law, we’re hoping to be able to use the pictures for prosecution.”

With help from a traffic safety grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Will County traffic safety program began searching for a camera system that could identify passing motorists about two and a half years ago, Shipley said. In 1997, the county tested a still-camera system but found it was ineffective due to vibrations of the bus, weather conditions, and other factors, she said.

Recently, a local engineering firm volunteered to build a digital video camera system after reading about the county’s failed attempt with the other system. The company, KG Rear Vision of Arlington Heights, Ill., manufactures automobile collision-avoidance products.

Ron Silc, the firm’s product manager, said its goal is to deliver a camera that automatically captures and stores digital images in which the vehicle, license plate, and the driver can be clearly identified, all for less than $500 per bus.

An optical bridge would enable the camera to “see” both the front and back of the bus simultaneously, and an ultrasonic sensor would detect the motion of a car that is passing while the stop arm is extended, automatically triggering the camera to record the car’s image. The images would be stored and available for downloading and printing from a computer.

“In effect, we’re trying to develop a ‘smart camera’ system that will only take images when the stop arm is out and will only keep them if the car passes the bus,” Duran said.

The camera system would be mounted on the outside of the bus, perhaps on the stop arm itself, so the only way it can “see” anything is when the arm is extended, he added.

The Will County Regional Office of Education will use $25,000 from a federal law enforcement block grant to purchase the cameras and conduct a follow-up campaign to evaluate how successful they are in convicting motorists and preventing stop-arm violations from occurring.

In 1997, figures compiled by the state showed that about 10,000 violations occurred each school day, Shipley said. The figures were based on surveys of bus drivers, including those in Will County, she said.

Six camera systems will be tested on buses throughout the county this fall. If the tests go well, the county will purchase an additional 19 cameras later next year, Duran said.

Will County Regional Office of Education

http://www.will.k12.il.us

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov

Illinois Department of Transportation

http://dot.state.il.us

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