School chief faces felony charge for ‘secret surveillance’: Hidden camera in principal’s office leads to trouble

A California school superintendent has been charged with felony eavesdropping for installing a hidden video camera in a principal’s office.

Craig Drennan, superintendent of the Modoc Joint Unified School District, was charged by Modoc County District Attorney Tom Buckwalter May 11 after police discovered the video camera in a fake smoke detector in Modoc High School Principal Dewey Pasquini’s office.

Drennan said he installed the camera under the guidelines of the school district’s lawyer in an effort catch someone who had apparently rifled through personnel files in Pasquini’s office. Because the camera recorded only video images and not sound, Drennan is confident the charge won’t stick.

“I don’t understand the charge,” said Drennan, now on paid administrative leave. “As I understand the (penal) code and the case law, eavesdropping has to involve sound, and it has to involve intent. There was no sound, and there was no intent.”

Reached at his home in Alturas, Calif., Drennan told eSchool News that he didn’t inform the principal because he wanted to ensure that as few people knew about the camera as possible.

“When you put in a surveillance camera, you only want to tell the people that need to know,” he said. “I believe that by telling him, the surveillance would have been ineffective.”

And the law might be on Drennan’s side.

Eavesdropping laws vary by state. In California, the penal code refers to the recording of “confidential communication,” not video-only surveillance.

“I believe that I acted properly, legal counsel was consulted prior to it being put in, as was the school board president, and I believe that, at least according to our school attorney, (the charge) will be dismissed,” Drennan said.

“It’s pretty standard procedure in lots of industries that when you think there’s a security problem, you have a secret camera installed,” he added.

Legal or not, however, the idea doesn’t sit well with Principal Pasquini.

“I feel especially betrayed. It never occurred to me anybody would do this. It caught me by surprise,” Pasquini said after the charges were filed.

“It’s always been considered a place where people could have privacy,” he said, referring to his private office. “The superintendent and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, which is probably a reason for the video.”

Drennan insists he was only trying to protect his principal.

Bill Hall, who was president of the district’s board of trustees when the camera was installed, said he didn’t have a problem with the superintendent’s plan, because Drennan told him he had spoken with the school district’s attorney, who said Drennan had the authority to install it.

Acting school board President Sean Curtis said Drennan has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the result of the criminal charges. But even if Drennan beats the charges, Curtis said the board will have to decide whether to bring him back.

Opinions on the situation within the community are wide-ranging, he said.

Some people would “prefer he be gone, regardless of whether his actions were legal or illegal,” Curtis said. The Modoc Teachers Association, for example, has asked the school board to resolve “this breach of trust.”

“As a teacher, it’s an Orwellian feeling,” said Patti Carpenter, spokeswoman for the teachers association. “Do we have to worry that ‘Big Brother’ is there? We should be able to do the jobs we do with the trust of the administration.”

Acting on a tip from an unnamed citizen, Chief of Police Larry Pickett said he learned the school district spent $4,500 to have the camera installed by a Redding, Calif., alarm company.

The camera was discovered by police May 5.

It was connected to a videotape recorder in the attic above the boys’ restroom, where a maintenance man installed a new tape at 5 a.m. daily and delivered the previous day’s tape to Drennan’s office.

Pickett said Drennan told him that the tapes contained no evidence of wrongdoing in Pasquini’s office and that he had ordered the tapes destroyed.

Drennan faces a maximum three-year prison sentence if convicted.


FCC approves $1 billion eRate hike: Schools will get $2.25 billion in second-year discounts

Amid heavy lobbying from both supporters and critics of the eRate, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted May 27 to fund this year’s program at $2.25 billion–the maximum figure allowed by its rules. The agency’s vote, though reassuring to educators, promises to fuel further attacks on the eRate by some members of Congress.

The $2.25 billion in funding represents an increase of nearly $1 billion from the current annual level, and critics say this increase will lead to higher phone bills. The eRate is paid for by fees collected from telecommunications companies, many of which have passed the program’s cost on to their customers.

Three commissioners supported maximum funding and two opposed. Commissioner Michael Powell said he would have supported a lower amount, but not $2.25 billion. Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth, the other dissenter, opposed any increase to the funding level.

“Every billion dollars of direct fees is $10 per household, per year in America,” Furchtgott-Roth said. “You pay for it through higher phone rates” and lost opportunities for rate cuts.

But FCC Chairman William Kennard argued that the additional funding would help wire 528,000 poor or rural classrooms to the internet, benefiting some 40 million more students.

“It’s important to make sure that all of our kids have access to the technology that will improve their lives and make them competitive on the job market,” Kennard said. “Some people have argued we can’t afford to do this. We can’t afford to leave poor kids in America in the dark ages.”

Last year, the FCC scaled back the eRate after consumer groups and some lawmakers called for cuts or halts in funding. Instead, the commission authorized $1.93 billion for the program’s first 18 months, a rate of nearly $1.3 billion a year.

More than 32,000 applications already have been filed for the eRate’s second fiscal year, which begins July 1. Demand is estimated to be $2.44 billion–still more than the $2.25 billion available.

According to the FCC, the eRate will be able to fund all requests for telecommunications services and internet access again this year. Requests for internal wiring, like last year, will be fulfilled on a needs-first basis.

Debate over funding resurfaces

In the weeks leading up to the FCC’s decision, the political debate that threatened to undermine the program last year was heard yet again. That debate is likely to continue, despite–or because of–the agency’s ruling.

In an eMail message sent to its activist list May 17, the Republican National Committee (RNC) urged its members to oppose any increase in funding for the eRate. In the message, titled “Gore: Reach Out and Tax Everyone–Veep to Double Despised ‘Gore Tax,'” the RNC said that the vice president “is set to double the tax on your phone bill by hiking the ‘Gore tax’ and socking taxpayers with billions of dollars in new taxes.”

The message, which was also posted to the RNC’s web site, went on to say that “Gore also missed the news that over 80% of schools are already on the Net” and that the FCC “is set to finalize the Gore phone tax hike at the end of May, unless–of course–listeners keep Gore and the FCC’s phones ringing.”

Some Republican critics of the eRate last year dubbed the program the “Gore tax,” after the vice president who has been a strong supporter of the eRate.

A contingent of 33 senators, meanwhile–including four Republicans–

lobbied the FCC to fully fund the program. In a letter sent May 14 to Kennard, the senators–led by John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, two of the eRate’s original sponsors–argued that anything less than $2.25 billion in funding wouldn’t allow the program to reach the neediest schools and libraries.

Despite the FCC’s ruling, a movement is under way in Congress to change the way the eRate would be funded. Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, has introduced a bill that would reduce an existing 3 percent telephone excise tax by one-third and use the remaining one percent to fund the eRate.

Tauzin’s bill, which would generate an estimated $1.9 billion per year in eRate funding, also would transfer control of the fund from the FCC to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which would distribute the money to the states in the form of block grants for them to administer.

A companion measure to Tauzin’s bill has been introduced in the Senate by Conrad Burns, R-Mont., chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee. But eRate supporters fear both bills would serve to undermine the program’s effectiveness. After five years, funding would be subjected to the annual appropriations process and would be capped at $500 million per year.

In a May 15 editorial, the New York Times argued, “[Burns’ and Tauzin’s] proposal would destabilize a program that works, and, worse, cut assistance even as telecommunications become increasingly important in education.”

A bipartisan poll commissioned by members of the Education and Library Networks Coalition, meanwhile, suggests that an overwhelming majority of Americans support the eRate. According to the poll of 1,000 households by Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates and the Tarrance Group, 87 percent of respondents said they support continuing discounts to needy schools and libraries, while 83 percent believe that internet access in schools and libraries will improve educational opportunities for all Americans.

Federal Communications Commission

Republican National Committee

Sen. John Rockefeller

Sen. Olympia Snowe

Rep. Billy Tauzin

Sen. Conrad Burns

Education and Library Networks Coalition


U.S. Copyright Office wants ‘fair use’ to cover distance learning: Proposal would let schools use digital media to transmit copyrighted materials

Schools engaged in distance learning via digital technologies would be able to use copyright-protected materials such as film clips, photographs, and literary excerpts without explicit permission from the copyright holder, under a proposal submitted to Congress by the U.S. Copyright Office.

The report, submitted to the U.S. Senate May 25, seeks to modernize a 1976 law that provided certain copyright exemptions for traditional classrooms and for distance education courses transmitted via broadcast television (analog technology).

The report also seeks to resolve an intense debate between educators and copyright holders over what constitutes “fair use” in the digital age. To protect copyright holders, the plan calls for schools to have safeguards in place to guard against unauthorized duplication and distribution of materials transmitted digitally.

The report, requested by Congress when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed last October, was presented to a Senate panel by Marybeth Peters, head of the U.S. Copyright Office.

“When the current law was enacted, the members of Congress made a policy decision with respect to certain educational uses,” Peters told the panel. “We conclude (the law) is now obsolete, and to maintain that policy balance, you would have to update the law…and expand the rights to include reproduction of works across networks.”

Two key issues have muddied the playing ground for schools that want to use protected materials for internet-based distance education courses.

First, current law does not specifically exempt materials used in digital transmissions, only analog methods.

And second, the law expressly prohibits the reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works. This is important because materials transmitted over networks are duplicated and temporarily stored on the receiving computer’s hard drive.

“Without an amendment to accommodate these new technologies, the policy behind the law will be increasingly diminished,” the report stated.

But copyright holders don’t necessarily agree with that assessment.

“We believe the record created by the Copyright Office report could have justified the conclusion and recommendation that Congress take no action,” Allan Adler, vice president of the Association of American Publishers, told the New York Times.

Representatives of copyright holders argued at a hearing earlier this year that expanding the exemptions to cover digital transmissions would result in a loss of opportunities in the potentially lucrative distance education market and that distance educators should consider licensing fees as just another cost of providing distance education.

Educators, on the other hand, told the Copyright Office that distance education is already an expensive proposition–and that adding the cost of licensing fees for copyrighted materials could make it cost-prohibitive.

Distance educators also say there are too many kinks in the current licensing system, from recurring problems with locating the copyright owner or getting a timely response, to unreasonable prices or other terms.

Copyright holders, meanwhile, assert that more efficient licensing systems are being developed and that the reported difficulties in getting permissions will ease “with time and experience.”

They’re also wary of the increased risk of unauthorized duplication and distribution of materials posed by digital transmissions.

This underlying dilemma–schools having trouble with licensing systems, copyright holders concerned about the risks of unauthorized use of their materials–made the debate a difficult one for the Copyright Office to resolve.

“If technology were further along, broadened exemptions could be less dangerous to copyright owners; if licensing were further evolved, broadened exemptions could be less important to educators,” the report said.

The Copyright Office said it would become clearer in the next few years how far both licensing systems and measures of protection will develop. Until that happens, the office said lawmakers should take the appropriate steps to bring the spirit of the original law up to date.

Here’s a rundown of the Copyright Office recommendations

€ Clarify the definition of “transmission” to cover transmissions by digital, as well as analog, means.

€ Expand the scope of permitted exemptions for the performance or display of copyrighted materials to the extent necessary for digital transmissions. Current law does not authorize reproduction and/or distribution of materials, but digital network transmissions automatically make temporary RAM (transient) copies in the computers through which the materials pass.

€ Emphasize the concept of “mediated instruction” to ensure materials are used in the same way they would be in a live classroom setting. The materials should be “a regular part of…systematic instructional activities” and should be used only at the direction of an instructor to illustrate a point.

€ Eliminate the “physical classroom” limitation on exemptions to permit transmissions to students regardless of physical location, though the report also recommended that language be added to ensure transmissions are made only to officially enrolled students.

€ Add new safeguards to counteract the risks presented by digital transmissions. First, transient copies permitted under the exemption should be retained for no longer than reasonably necessary to complete the transmission. Second, educators seeking exemptions should institute policies regarding copyrighted materials; provide information to faculty, students, and staff to promote compliance with copyright law; and provide notice to students that materials may be subject to copyright protection. And third, technological measures–such as password protection, firewalls, or encryption–should be in place to control unauthorized uses.

€ Maintain the existing standards of eligibility to include only nonprofit educational institutions.

€ Expand the categories of works eligible for exemptions. Currently, the law applies only to non-dramatic literary and musical works. The law would be expanded to cover dramatic literary works, as well as audiovisual works such as motion pictures. However, only portions of these works could be displayed under the exemption.

€ If categories of works are expanded, require that the performance or display be made from a lawful copy.

U.S. Copyright Office


Purdue’s BioScope will put pizzazz into biology classes: Project creates 3-D images, video clips from the university’s high-powered microscope

Imagine a diagram in a high-school biology book suddenly coming to life, spinning off the page as a detailed three-dimensional image.

Or picture a written explanation of how blood is sampled and tested, translated into a video clip that actually shows how it’s done.

If this sounds a bit more titillating than the average high school lab class, then J. Paul Robinson and his crew of scientists at Purdue University are on the right track.

The BioScope Initiative is a project Robinson started last year that uses Purdue’s laboratory facilities to produce high-quality images and videos that accompany subjects commonly taught in high school biology classes. These images are being incorporated into a CD-ROM that works in conjunction with the internet.

The result is a fully interactive program that will give kids anywhere in the world multimedia access to science, allowing them to dig as deep into the subject matter as they wish.

“There’s lots of stuff that you can’t teach kids because you don’t have the time in school,” said Robinson, a Purdue professor and director of the initiative. “But the kids, if they’re excited and interested about it, will go off and learn about it themselves.”

For example, the BioScope software–which is still being developed–can display the structure of a plant cell in which each distinct part of the cell acts as a link. By clicking on one of the links, students are shown a rotating three-dimensional view of that specific cell part and given a brief explanation of what it does.

If students want additional information, they can proceed to a more detailed section.

The students can also view images of different cells through an interactive microscope. This part of the program provides everything from pictures taken on relatively low-powered microscopes to ones from high-powered electron microscopes, images that previously would only be available at a research university.

“We want to expose the student to science and scientific images,” said Kelly Carles-Kinch, the project’s manager. “Expose the student to things they normally wouldn’t have access to.”

The idea for the BioScope Initiative came early in 1997. Robinson’s son, Tim, had done a lab experiment at school one day. It was a common high school procedure where students scrape cells from inside their mouths then examine the cells under a microscope.

Robinson asked his 15-year-old what the cells were and what they looked like. Tim didn’t remember, and didn’t seem too excited about it.

Later that night, father and son marched into Robinson’s lab at Purdue and did the same experiment, this time using a $350,000 high-powered microscope. The resulting color printouts showed detailed images of human cells, highlighted by fluorescent dyes to illustrate different parts.

“He was pretty excited,” Robinson said of his son. “He was able to take to school these pictures that were so much better than the ones in (the) textbooks.”

That’s when the light bulb clicked on. Why not use computer technology to give kids an exciting way to experience science? Why should they have fuzzy, flat textbook pictures when kids anywhere can see dramatic three-dimensional images on CD-ROM?

A couple years and a $2 million grant later, Robinson and his team are nearing completion of their first BioScope CD-ROM, which they hope to make available in the fall. A consortium of educators from across the country acts as an advisory board, and the software is being tested by several teachers in Indiana and other states.

Linda Anderson, a biology teacher at West Lafayette High School, worked with a preliminary version of the software and was impressed.

“The kids liked it a lot,” she said. “They like computers and they like technology, so it was really good for them.”

She said the average low-power high school microscope can frustrate students because it’s sometimes hard for them to see what they’re supposed to see.

“The same images on the computer are much clearer and sharper,” she said.

In the end, the scientists, programmers and graphic artists working on the BioScope project hope to provide an affordable means of bringing interesting, high-quality scientific information into any school that has internet access and a CD-ROM drive.

“We want to give them the excitement of science,” Robinson said. “One really questions today whether kids get that.

“Science is important, and we want kids to see that science is not just an exciting hobby, it’s an exciting profession.”

BioScope Initiative


From the Publisher: Up in Michigan

Where you stand depends on where you sit, as we well know. But now something else is becoming increasingly clear: Where you sit also can determine how you talk. And say what you will, how you talk does matter.

Just ask Timothy Boomer, a 25-year-old computer programmer from Detroit. Sitting in a canoe last summer got him in deep water–or rather, not sitting in it. As he was paddling down Michigan’s remote Rifle River last August, he managed to fall out of his boat and into the drink. Last month, a Michigan jury found him guilty of violating a 102-year-old state law against swearing in front of children.

Boomer, his attorney conceded, had been tippling a brew before tipping the canoe. As he spluttered to the surface–a torrent of obscenities flooding from his mouth–a sharp-eared local deputy nabbed him. At least one other boater had been drifting by, it seems–along with the wife and kids. That’s all the deputy needed to invoke the 1897 law. In spite of a spirited defense by the American Civil Liberties Union, Boomer was found guilty on June 11 by a jury in Michigan’s rural Arenac County. At press time, he was facing up to 90 days in the cooler.

Dripping with larger meaning, the case of the cussing canoeist should be a lesson to us all. It’s high time we watched our mouths. I sometimes worry that information technology (IT) directors in education might be America’s most endangered speaker species.

The eloquent Trevor Shaw, author of eSchool News’ brand-new column on the rigors and foibles of network administration (see “IT Happens,” page 26) knows this all too well. His inaugural column offers much-needed counsel to IT directors (and others) on the perils of communicating with the technically challenged.

In education, it seems to me, IT directors face the threat of a double whammy. That is, they bear twin linguistic burdens: Being both technologists and educators, they risk falling into the murky depths of either educationese or technospeak (or both!) — tongues widely considered obscene by a plurality of peers both within and outside of Michigan.

Fully initiated educators long have possessed the power to cloud the minds of those outside the order. For instance, just give this passage from an educational journal your best metacognition: “General cognitive processes make up the substance of the thinking enterprise. . . . One especially important cluster of processes is metacognition, the self-monitoring and self-adjusting of the ongoing thinking process by the thinker.”

Now add the magical mystery of technospeak, as in this lyrical excerpt from a web site for network administrators: “One specification. . . provides a common interface through which front-end analysis tools and programs can access OLAP engines. . . . The second specification, the Open Information Model (OIM), is a metadata classification and organization standard that was developed as part of the Microsoft Repository 2.0 effort.”

A truly gifted practitioner might be tempted to blend “metacognition” into a “metadata classification.”

Be careful, though. If you try saying something like that up in Michigan, you just might find yourself with Boomer–looking at hard time in the Arenac County pokey.


eSpeak could streamline your school bidding process: Hewlett-Packard says its new technology will enable web sites to competitively bid for your services

School business managers and technology coordinators might routinely take bids for services directly over the internet in the not-too-distant future, thanks to a new technology developed by Hewlett-Packard. Called “eSpeak,” the technology is designed to allow web sites to communicate instantly with each other and competitively bid to deliver goods and services.

Schools, and any other users, would simply put out a request on the internet and would automatically receive the best results. If widely adopted, the technology could transform the way business is conducted, according to eSpeak’s chief technologist, Rajiv Gupta.

“eSpeak is intended to reduce barriers and make it easy, cost-effective, and quick for people to do business over the internet,” Gupta said. “This is the logical next step of the web, to go from a publishing to a service medium. eSpeak will do for services what the web did for data: Make them easily accessible for everyone.”

Like Java, eSpeak is a programming code built from hypertext mark-up language (HTML) so it can be read by any browser. Software applications developed with eSpeak would take a high-level service request, negotiate with service providers who have registered their services according to a “uniform service interface,” and return information on the best options to the user.

The process would be similar to the communication that takes place between a browser and a web server, Gupta said. A browser takes a user’s request for an internet site, communicates with the web server, and returns the site to the user.

On-the-fly data

In describing how the technology works, Gupta used the example of a passenger requesting travel arrangements from one city to another. Travel is a high-level request composed of multiple elements such as air fare and hotel accommodations, he said. Within each element, there are multiple providers.

Using today’s internet, you’d have to go to ten or twelve different web sites yourself to check out prices, compare features, solicit bids, and make final arrangements, Gupta said. And there’s no real way of knowing if any of the details have changed in the interim without going back to visit the sites.

With eSpeak, you’d specify your preferences in a user profile (window seat, business flight, etc.), and the technology would break down each element of your request, keep track of who the various service providers are, request bids from each provider, and return the best bids to you according to your chosen criteria.

“With 6,500 new web sites coming onto the internet every hour, that makes it frustrating and time-consuming for consumers to figure out who can offer the best deal,” he said. In contrast, eSpeak would bring the service providers directly to the user to compete for the user’s different services.

School purchasing agents soon might be able to solicit bids online for anything from food services to technology products using eSpeak, Gupta said: “While today, you’re limited by the 10 people your business manager knows, soon you’ll be limited (only) by the hundreds of thousands of companies that want your business.”

High tide

Hewlett-Packard is making its eSpeak technology available to developers at no cost. The company hopes to profit by selling the web servers and other new products and services that will drive it.

But for eSpeak to transform business, the technology must be widely adopted by developers and web publishers.

“These are still the early days–there are no products, not even (a software developer’s kit),” said Paul McGuckin, an analyst with the Gartner Group. “There is a technology, and it does appear to be a good set of services, but they still have a number of barriers.”

For one thing, HP must continue to recruit high-profile partners. Already, pilot programs and endorsements for eSpeak have come from the likes of Anderson Consulting, Noika, Novell, Oracle, PeopleSoft, and Seagate Technology. Notably absent so far, however, has been Microsoft, which reportedly is working on a similar project.

“HP would love to have Microsoft anoint this, but they won’t,” McGuckin said. “This is way too big a space to let HP own it.”

Still, Gupta predicts the technology will reach critical mass in just two years. “This is the tide that is going to raise all the boats,” he said.


Gartner Group

Microsoft Corp.


In a technology breakthrough that could revolutionize the way school textbooks are published and distributed, a Cambridge, Mass., company called E Ink has developed the first commercial application of “electronic ink”–real ink on paper or a similarly thin display that can be changed like the letters on a computer screen.

The technology is being tested on display signs for a handful of J.C. Penney stores, and E Ink marketing director Lisa Downey Merriam told eSchool News the company hopes, within the next five years, to develop newspapers and books that look and feel like the real thing, but can be changed as quickly as the information becomes outdated.

Last year, three different companies launched their own versions of electronic books, which enable readers to download new text via the internet (see “Electronic books are heading for school bookshelves,” Oct. 1998). But those devices all use liquid crystal display (LCD) screens and more closely resemble computers than they do books. E Ink touts its new technology as more energy efficient, cheaper to manufacture, and easier to read, because it looks just like ink on paper.

Much like traditional ink, electronic ink–and the circuits that change its color–can be printed onto surfaces including curved plastic, paper, and cloth, the company said. When exposed to an electric charge, the ink changes color and can display changing images, E Ink added.

The company got its start following discoveries made at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab a few years ago. The idea of electronic ink seemed far-fetched even last year, but already E Ink has developed a working product, Merriam said.

The first electronic ink display, which hangs in the sports clothing department of a J.C. Penney store in Marlborough, Mass., is just three millimeters thick and consumes less energy than a lightbulb, according to E Ink. The sign changes its message every ten seconds through electronic signals sent by a pager.

Unlike a typical electronic display, E Ink’s sign looks the same from any angle and in any light, said J.C. Penney technology manager Ed Sample.

Schools might be able to purchase similar electronic ink displays to hang in classrooms or hallways or post outdoors at school functions by the end of next year, Merriam said. Ultimately, the company plans to refine the technology to the point where even textbooks could be printed with electronic ink, and schools would be able to download an updated version of the text each year for a fraction of the cost of a new book.

How “electronic ink” works

Electronic ink is made up of millions of tiny microcapsules suspended in a liquid, E Ink said. Inside each capsule is a mixture of dye and pigment chips. The ink is printed onto a surface between clear, micro-thin plastic electrodes, and when the top electrode has a positive charge, the negatively charged pigment chips are attracted to the top of the capsules, making them appear white. When the charge is reversed, the pigment chips are repelled, making the ink appear black.

To change the text, you’d use a handheld computer or pager to send wireless infrared or radio signals to the display, changing the charge on the top electrode layer to form the shape of the desired text. The system can be password-protected, so only authorized personnel can change the text of a display.

Electronic ink can adhere to any surface where regular ink can be used and can be printed using existing screen printing processes, E Ink said. Because it looks like ink on paper, it’s a comfortable medium for people to read, the company added. And unlike LCD panels or other display technologies, electronic ink can hold its image for weeks at a time without any power source.

During the summer, additional electronic ink displays will be installed in J.C. Penney stores in Dallas and Chicago, E Ink said. The company will initially focus on marketing the technology in the form of display signs for retail stores, pharmacies, banks, and even school districts. Eventually, the company hopes to compete in the publishing market with products such as electronic books and even reusable newspapers that can “typeset themselves,” Merriam said.

E Ink

J.C. Penney


Group lobbies for voluntary ban on bomb-making web sites: Joined by various bombing victims, safety advocates say the sites should be kept off the internet

In further fallout from the Columbine High School rampage that left 14 students and a teacher dead in Littleton, Colo., victims of various high-profile bombings joined a public safety advocacy group last week in calling on the nation’s leading internet companies to keep bomb-making sites off the web.

“No one has a constitutional right to use an internet company’s property to facilitate murder,” said Dennis Saffran, executive director of the Center for the Community Interest (CCI). “Rather, the companies have the constitutional right–and the moral obligation–to stop this use of their property.”

Joined by a survivor of a Unabomber mail bombing, the Unabomber’s brother, and the mother of a woman killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, the group mailed letters May 19 to America Online, Microsoft, Yahoo Inc!, and Walt Disney Co., asking for them to take action.

The companies should identify and shut down access to bomb-making sites, routinely scan their sites for bomb-making information, and remove sites that specifically threaten or encourage physical violence against named private individuals, the letters said.

Saffran said if the companies refused to act voluntarily, his organization would ask crime victims to press for limited government intervention.

Officials with AOL, Yahoo Inc!, and, a joint venture between Infoseek Corp. and Disney, said they already prohibit such information. Officials with Microsoft could not immediately be reached for comment.

The companies also do not control all the material on the internet, so virtually anyone with a computer and a modem could create a web site of their own with whatever information they desired.

Srinija Srinivasan, editor-in-chief of Yahoo Inc!, said she was unaware of any bomb-making sites on the company’s directory, but if someone tried, the company would not allow it. is very aggressive in watching out for such sites, said Infoseek spokeswoman Amanda Higgins. prohibits hate or violent language, she added.

“Any such materials we find are removed,” said AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein, who noted that posting bomb-making material on AOL is a violation of the company’s terms.

Still, Eric Harris, one of the two youths who killed 12 students and a teacher and then themselves in Colorado last month, had a web site on AOL filled with bomb diagrams.

David Kaczynski, the brother of convicted “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, said easy access to bomb-making sites can turn good kids bad.

“We’re allowing every Eric Harris, every troubled kid out there, to become the next Tim McVeigh,” Kaczynski said.

Gary Wright, who still finds shards of shrapnel in his skin from a Kaczynski bomb, said that in a span of 15 minutes, he was able to find 10 sites telling him how to make pipe and rocket bombs, bombs disguised as tennis balls, and homemade napalm.

“A child running in the park is going to have no hesitation in picking up something that is made to look like it can give him pleasure, like a tennis ball,” Wright said through a video hookup from Salt Lake City.

CCI supplies a form on its site for reporting bomb-making and other dangerous web sites.

Center for the Community Interest

America Online

Microsoft Corp.



eSN Exclusive: Roberts Signals Shift–Technology implementation is Clinton’s new school tech funding priority

Over the next five years, the Clinton Administration wants the federal focus to shift from helping schools get technology to helping them implement it. That was the message in the administration’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the government’s single largest investment in K-12 education, which was sent to Congress May 21.

The proposal, called the “Educational Excellence for All Children Act of 1999,” sets out the administration’s new goals in helping to spur educational reform. ESEA must be reauthorized by Congress every five years.

The new proposal is a long way from becoming official policy. It’s likely to undergo significant changes in Congress this summer before it’s signed into law.

But in an exclusive interview with eSchool News, Linda Roberts, special advisor to the White House on school technology, said the proposal as it stands now is characterized by a shift in focus from getting technology into the classroom to using it wisely and effectively to achieve comprehensive reform.

Roberts outlines key points

Roberts outlined four key focal points of the administration’s approach to technology funding over the next five years:

1. Support the preparation of teachers (including future teachers) to effectively use technology in their classrooms.

“We realize we have to reach out to the next generation of teachers,” Roberts said. “In fact, we think (professional development) is so important that we built it as a separate title.”

Under Title III (Technology for Education), the government would continue to support the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program, which it launched this year. The program helps consortia of public and private entities train new teachers to use technology to create engaging learning environments that prepare students to achieve state and local standards.

But Title II of the new act, High Standards in the Classroom, would expand federal support of teacher training intiatives. Under Part A of Title II, “Teaching to High Standards,” funds would be allocated by formula to the states to help school districts provide teachers and administrators with access to high-quality professional development activities that are tied to state and district standards and assessments. These funds could be used to train teachers and administrators in effective uses of classroom technology, for example.

2. Target technology support to the neediest schools and communities.

“We have to close the digital divide–we’re not there yet,” Roberts said.

Under the new proposal, future Technology Literacy Challenge Fund moneys would explicitly target high-poverty, low-performing schools. To help build the necessary capacity to use technology effectively, the neediest districts would be encouraged to partner with “technology proficient” districts, colleges and universities, businesses, and nonprofits.

The administration’s proposal also continues support for the Community-Based Technology Centers program, which was introduced last year. The program would support the development or expansion of community technology centers to serve disadvantaged residents of high-poverty areas. The centers would provide access to technology and training for community members of all ages.

3. Stimulate the development of innovative technology applications.

“We’ve got to think of the next generation of technology tools for learning,” Roberts said. “Our focus will be on supporting projects that are of national significance in this area.”

The administration’s proposal would combine the Star Schools and Technology Innovation Challenge Grants programs into a single new program called “Next Generation Grants.” School districts, states, colleges and universities, businesses, and nonprofits would be encouraged to compete for funds in a public-private consortium to develop new technology learning tools.

Successful projects would create innovative models for using technology to improve teaching and learning, such as simulations, virtual realities, or other cutting-edge applications.

4. Expand the focus on technology evaluation.

A new focal point for the administration’s proposal is an emphasis on technology evaluation, Roberts said: “We’re calling for long-term studies to research the impact of technology on today’s learners” to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Though only $2 million of this year’s budget will be spent on evaluation, the new proposal would let the secretary of education set aside up to four percent of the total Title III funding to support future planning and evaluation projects.

Changes and amendments likely

Congress will hold hearings to address the administration’s new reauthorization plan this summer. While the Republicans who chair the education committees in both legislative branches agree that support for technology must lead to increased performance in schools, they balk at creating new federal programs to achieve this goal.

“It is essential that any reforms in federal education legislation get funding into the hands of local educators in the most efficient manner, so that they can determine the priorities and needs of their students,” said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families.

Castle added, “We must find a way to consolidate…the different funding streams that are available for technology in ways that allow for a truly coordinated and cohesive educational technology effort.”

Other lawmakers plan to amend Title III of the administration’s reauthorization act. Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., for example, have co-sponsored legislation called the “Digital Education Act.” The bill would provide an additional $95 million in funding to create new digital educational resources to improve the types of services local public broadcasting stations can offer to schools.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., plans to introduce an amendment to Title III that would provide additional funding for the neediest school districts to purchase resources for their school library media centers–including CD-ROM collections and other digital resources.

“The average copyright date of a book in a school library is 1965,” said Greg McCarthy, press secretary for Sen. Reed, explaining the need for the senator’s amendment.

U.S. Department of Education

Educational Excellence for All Children

Act of 1999


House Committee on Education and the Workforce

Sen. Thad Cochran

Sen. Edward Kennedy

Sen. Jack Reed


Former technology director cleared in eMail hijacking case: Judge rules theft of supervisor’s eMail messages did not violate state wiretapping laws

Because no school district policy prohibited him from accessing the eMail of others and because prosecutors could not prove messages were intercepted in transit, a former Pennsylvania school district technology director was acquitted. He had faced charges that he violated state wiretapping laws by stealing a supervisor’s eMail messages.

The judge’s decision leaves open the question of whether school technology personnel have a legal right to access the electronic communications of others–and it underscores the need for schools to set clear policies in this regard.

Former West Chester Area School District employee Martin Friedman was cleared on May 12 of all 90 counts against him–including 60 felony charges–after a Chester County judge found the district attorney’s evidence failed to prove Friedman’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The technology director was accused last year of stealing eMail messages sent to the account of assistant superintendent Nan Wodarz, his direct supervisor. Authorities said Friedman then faxed and mailed the messages to certain school board members–reportedly in an attempt to discredit Wodarz (“Administrator’s eMail hijacked, faxed to board members,” eSchool News, August/September 1998).

Friedman was said to be striking back at his supervisor after receiving a negative performance review. Using a laptop computer issued by the district, he allegedly accessed 30 messages originally sent to Wodarz from unnamed sources between May 5 and June 16, 1998.

On the felony charges, the court’s decision hinged on whether Friedman “intercepted” the messages while they were in the act of being sent.

“In this case, the Commonwealth has failed to prove that the defendant intercepted the contents (of the messages) contemporaneously and simultaneously with their transmission,” said Chester County Pleas Court Judge Juan Sanchez, who rendered his verdict in a non-jury trial.

“No evidence exists on this record to establish that (Friedman) seized the eMails while actually in transmission,” the judge added.

Both Pennsylvania law and the Federal Wiretap Act, upon which the judge’s ruling was based, require the “interception” to occur at the same time as the transmission.

That left Friedman facing 30 misdemeanor charges for having illegally accessed stored electronic information.

Those charges, too, were dismissed by Judge Sanchez in what could provide a valuable lesson for school districts and businesses alike.

Though “extremely troubled” by some of Friedman’s actions, Sanchez said the prosecution’s case was hurt because of the school system’s “lack of written guidelines specifying the employee’s exercise of his broad employment responsibilities and authorities.”

As the district’s technology director, one of Friedman’s duties was to monitor the school system’s computers.

The authority to monitor the computers is one thing, testified West Chester schools Superintendent Janet Shaner; accessing the information inside the computers is another.

But defense attorney Robert J. Donatoni successfully argued that the school district’s policy regarding the technology director’s authority to access stored information was unclear and did not “exclude the right to access” eMail.

Assistant District Attorney Susan Fields, who described the intent of Friedman’s actions to the court as “pure evil,” expressed her disappointment following the case.

“It was uncharted territory in the law,” Fields told the Legal Intelligencer. “We thought we put on a good case.”

Despite her disappointment, Fields indicated that an important lesson can be gleaned from the verdict.

“I’m hopeful that the public is now aware of the issue,” Fields continued, “and we would encourage all businesses and companies to look at the job description of their system administrator so that the job can be clearly defined and very specific regarding their authority.”

If he had been convicted, Friedman would have faced a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

West Chester Area School District