DA probes school district’s eMail deletion

In a case that raises questions about how long school districts must keep electronic records to avoid litigation, a Madison, Wis., district attorney is investigating whether the local school district’s deletion of certain sensitive eMail messages was legal.

The electronic messages in question pertain to the controversy surrounding the school board’s decision to prohibit students from saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Phillip Prange, an area Republican fund raiser, filed an open-records request asking that all the eMail sent to the Madison Metropolitan School District about the Pledge of Allegiance controversy be forwarded to him.

The school district said most of the pertinent eMails had been deleted. But an effort is being made to recover the deleted files, while Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard looks into whether the deletion was legal.

Prange said he is not involved in an effort to recall school board member Bill Keys, who made the motion to bar group recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance in the district’s schools.

The board passed the motion but reversed itself after a wave of protest.

Prange acknowledged that the more than 22,000 messages could be used to form a contact list of those who might help in an effort to recall Keys. The recall drive is being lead by former state representative Scott Klug, a Republican. But Prange said that was not the purpose of the request. He said he just wanted to read the messages.

School district spokesman Ken Syke said the eMails were deleted because their bulk threatened to cause problems with the district’s computer system.

He said the district already has offered up the few hundred eMails that were not deleted, as well as other records related to the pledge controversy. Syke said that if the deleted files are recovered, they would be delivered immediately.

Prange said in a letter to Blanchard that his office requested the eMails Oct. 17 and was told two days later that they no longer existed.

On the 24th, Blanchard said he was writing a letter to Superintendent Art Rainwater, requesting the school district’s version of events.

The district attorney said eMails are clearly documents protected under the state’s open-records law, but he added that they generally could be considered an “arguably more perishable form” of public record.

Blanchard said deleting eMails might not constitute a public-records violation if their sheer number was indeed interfering with the computer system.

The key piece in evaluating the situation is when the eMail was deleted, he said.

Clarence Sherrod, legal counsel for the school district, said the eMail was deleted more than a week before the open-records request was made and was done strictly to deal with technical problems with the district’s computer system.

“We don’t have a legal obligation to keep every eMail that is sent to the district, unless a request has been made,” he said.

School law expert Craig Wood said that because the eMails are electronic documents, they are, indeed, subject to open-records requests. But timing, he agreed, is the key element in determining liability.

“If the eMails were destroyed after the written request for them was submitted, then Prange has a winner,” said Wood, a partner in the law firm McGuireWoods LLP of Charlottesville, Va. “He was entitled to the documents in electronic form, and the district would have illegally destroyed them.” On the other hand, no one keeps electronic documents forever unless required by law to do so, Wood said.

“I am not aware of any laws that state how long an eMail must be kept,” he said. “If the eMails were deleted before the request was made—and were deleted for a legitimate purpose, such as to maintain the integrity of the computer system—then the deletion was not improper.”

The Madison case underscores the need for schools to back up all electronic files in order to keep a backlog of electronic documentation, Wood said.

“One might ask why [the messages] were not copied to a back-up disk instead of being destroyed, but … that is a matter of poor policy, not illegality,” he said.

Edwin Darden, senior staff attorney for the National School Boards Association, said his organization recently published a book of legal recommendations for school administrators, in which eMail communication is broadly addressed. The Madison case brings up several legal questions, he said.

“One issue is, what is the school district’s customary policy on deleting eMails?” said Darden. “We say it is favorable for a district to decide how they are going to handle [the deletion of] eMails before litigation occurs.”

Darden recommended that schools establish a policy dictating how often to delete eMail transmissions, because “once litigation of any sort begins, you can’t start to arbitrarily institute policy at that point.”

The Madison case might have legal implications in Wisconsin, but it’s important to remember that open-records laws applying to eMail vary widely from state to state, Darden noted.


Madison Metropolitan School District

McGuireWoods LLP

National School Boards Association

Legal Issues & Education Technology: A School Leader’s Guide


Audio Enhancement Utlimate Pal

Students in the back of the room won’t have to
strain their ears to hear the teacher with this
new classroom microphone system from
Audio Enhancement. According to the
company, its new Ultimate Pal is a
multispeaker system with a wireless
microphone that allows teachers to turn up the
volume equally throughout the entire

The Ultimate Pal is equipped with four
portable speakers and a wireless microphone
that gives teachers and students alike the
opportunity to speak, present, and read from
anywhere in the classroom. Adjustable audio
controls for tone, balance, and volume allow
teachers to move about freely, without having
to worry about whether they can be heard
clearly by every student. The new system also
has volume controls for individual speakers,
so teachers can concentrate their voices on
one or more specific areas of the room. The
Ultimate Pal is different from past generations
of the company’s wireless audio systems
because, unlike its predecessors, it does not
operate on FM radio frequencies. Instead, it
uses infrared light technology. By eliminating
the need for radio channels, the newest
version allows a school to operate several
systems simultaneously without being forced
to use up a set number of
government-allocated radio frequencies, the
company said.

The Ultimate Pal also allows for group
teaching, giving instructors the chance to use
more than one microphone together on a
single system. There are inputs for TV,VCR,
and multimedia tools. The four-speaker,
one-microphone system costs $1,795. The
product is also available without the wireless
microphone for $1,595.


Get a Clue Online Vocabulary Program

Bigchalk, a leading provider of instructional
research tools, has announced the newest
version of a premiere online vocabulary
program for students in grades five through12.

The 2001-2002 school year edition of Get a
Clue, Lyceum Communication’s well-known
language tool, will be available only through
bigchalk under an exclusive distribution
agreement between the two companies. The
program focuses on improving reading
comprehension and critical thinking skills
while preparing students for high-stakes

The latest edition of Get a Clue offers several
new features, bigchalk said, including a
simplified set-up program, customized lesson
planning, online pre- and post-tests, and a
redesigned quiz creation tool.

The web-based vocabulary resource contains
more than 1,000 continuously updated words
that are divided into various skill levels and
category themes. Get a Clue’s customized
quizzes allow educators to judge each
student’s comprehension and rate of
retention. The program then develops
performance reports to track personal

Get a Clue was derived from the WATS
(Words and their Stories) System, a
vocabulary acquisition process that aims to
help students learn words in a context they
can remember. The new edition of Get a Clue
costs roughly $3,000 per school.


Palm m125

Palm Inc., known for its handheld devices, has
introduced the m125 pocket computer. The
new device is versatile enough to suit the
needs of both educators and students,
according to Palm.

“From the campus to the workplace, the Palm
m125 handheld is customizable and
expandable to fit your lifestyle,” said Kevin
Hall, the company’s senior vice president of
product management.

The m125 comes with applications to handle
a variety of tasks, including eMail, reading
eBooks, watching movies, conducting
research, and sharing a wealth of technical
information with its user. The device is also
built to connect with new add-ons, including a
collapsible keyboard and digital camera.
While some users may choose to add a
wireless modem, others might opt for a 16MB
backup card for storing information.

The new m125 boasts a new, faster
processor—the Dragonball VZ 33
megahertz—and it can run fully on three AAA
batteries while supporting eight megabytes of
RAM. The m125 also carries with it the latest
Palm software and the company’s signature
Personal Information Management (PIM)

Palm’s m125 sells for $249. The price
includes $100 worth of bundled software
solutions but does not encompass the cost of
add-on tools.


Laptop storage units from American Locker Systems

As the use of laptop computers becomes
more common in schools, so does the need
to protect these expensive investments.
American Locker Systems believes it has the
answer with its introduction of two new laptop
storage systems for schools.

The LTS-10, a keyed system, assigns
individual keys to each of 10 vertically
arranged compartments in a single locker.
Each individual key is chosen from one of 16
million combinations and will only work in its
assigned compartment.

The Compu-Lok system is a keyless,
electronic-access system that provides faculty
and student access to a variety of different
types of lockers through the use of electronic
keypads. The simple keypads not only accept
passwords, but also track all locker
transactions for increased security.
Compu-Lok keypads can be programmed to
accept different codes for students sharing
lockers or individual codes for personal

Each type of laptop storage system comes
with optional laptop recharging capabilities,
and the lockers can be used for storing other
valuable materials as well.

Pricing is available only by speaking with a
sales representative through the company’s
toll-free number, which appears below.


Waterford Early Math & Science

Electronic Education, a division of Pearson
Education, has announced the release of
Waterford Early Math & Science, a
technology-driven curriculum for students in
pre-kindergarten through grade two.

Based on research by the Waterford Institute,
which also developed the popular Waterford
Early Reading intervention program, Early
Math & Science uses a variety of
methods—including multimedia tools and
research-based sequencing—to enhance the
math and science skills of struggling

The year-long curriculum incorporates a daily,
15-minute, computer-based instruction
period, followed by a variety of different online
and offline exercises. Through its use of
easy-to-learn controls and its incorporation of
music, advanced graphics, and colorful
animation, Early Math & Science aims to
ensure that children remain actively involved in
the learning process.

Teachers can use the program not only to
cover new topics, but also to review old
concepts. A series of assessment tests
require students to prove their mastery of
certain concepts. The skills students learn in
the classroom are relayed home through
books, videotapes, and newsletters to

The software is geared to aid teachers in
conveying concepts to children based on the
individual pace of their learning abilities. It
also provides teachers with the ability to
assess a student’s progress at any time
during the year.

The Waterford Early Math & Science program
is licensed as a turnkey “math center” and
costs an average of $20,000 for a
three-station installation. This cost includes
hardware, software, training, technical
support, and student materials for three years.
Site license pricing for larger installations also
is available.


QED: School tech spending could fall in 2001-2002

Overall spending on school technology probably will decline in the current school year, according to two reports from market research firm Quality Education Data (QED), but more teachers are using the internet in the classroom than ever before, and most school districts now have at least some broadband internet access.

The reports, part of QED’s annual School Market Trends series, reveal the emerging state of technology in education.

According to “District Technology Forecast: 2001-2002,” which is based on telephone interviews with 750 technology coordinators from across the country, school technology spending could dip for the third straight year to as low as $6.2 billion (including eRate spending), down from $7 billion last year.

Although QED predicts a decline, the firm acknowledged the possibility that spending actually could increase by nearly a billion dollars. When adjusted using historical data, this figure could be anywhere from $6.2 billion to $7.9 billion, said Cynthia Perry, market research manager at QED.

In previous years, spending has surpassed $8 billion. QED President Jeanne Hayes suggests that the slowdown is caused by a maturing market.

“There’s a more business-like approach to purchasing computers for schools,” Hayes said. School officials are concentrating more on how to keep a network up and increase technical support rather than providing equal access to computers, she said.

Sometimes the numbers are “artificially high” because of one-time grant monies and expenses like the year 2000 problem. “A lot of districts are getting one-time grants, so once they get [the money] and spend it, that’s it. Their spending the next year is less,” said Perry.

Interestingly, the report found that larger districts are more likely to increase their technology spending this year, while smaller districts are more likely to decrease spending.

Larger school districts often represent highly populated, urban areas, Hayes said, meaning they often have more disadvantaged students than smaller districts. As a result, they qualify for more grants and government assistance programs.

“Smaller districts also have fewer resources,” she noted. Fewer students mean fewer dollars, and that ultimately leads to less spending.

Computer hardware and software

Nine out of 10 United States schools own PCs, and approximately two-thirds of U.S. schools own Macintosh computers, QED reported.

Macintosh continues to be the most pervasive single brand of computer installed in schools, according to QED: Technology coordinators reported that 32 percent of their installed computers were Macintosh, 17 percent were unbranded or custom machines, 15 percent were Dell, 9 percent were Compaq, 7 percent IBM, 6 percent Gateway, 2 percent Hewlett-Packard, and 12 percent other.

For the 2001-2002 school year, QED predicts Macintosh computers will continue to be the largest-selling single brand, but districts will purchase fewer Macs this year than last year, continuing a downward trend. Only 26 percent of computer purchases will be Macs this year, according to QED, compared with 30 percent last year and 37 percent the year before.

In terms of which software programs are most prevalent in schools, an estimated 72 percent of schools have installed instructional software from the Learning Co., followed by Scholastic (63 percent), Grolier (57 percent), and Tom Synder (52 percent). Microsoft and Adobe rate as the top productivity titles, the report said.

For the first time, districts were asked about their use of personal digital assistants (PDAs) and broadband internet access.

Twenty-two percent of districts reported using PDAs for personal use. They are most commonly given to district technology coordinators and school principals; only 22 percent of districts said they give them to teachers.

Eighty-five percent of districts say they connect to the internet through a T1 or T3 line, meaning most schools now use broadband connections to bring the internet into their buildings.

Although many districts report having high-speed internet access, this doesn’t mean it’s ubiquitous. “Just because a district is using broadband doesn’t mean every class has broadband [access],” Perry said.

Internet usage

The second report, titled “Internet Use in Teaching 2001-2002,” found that 84 percent of public-school classrooms are now connected to the web. In addition, nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of teachers in schools with internet access say all 100 percent of their schools’ classrooms are wired.

The percentage of classrooms connected to the internet now is astounding, Hayes said. “We’re certainly not in Nirvana yet, but we have tremendous amount of outreach,” she said.

Ninety percent of teachers say they use the internet as a teaching resource.

Among teachers who use the web as a teaching tool, 74 percent say their students spend at least an hour per week using the internet hands-on at school. Fifty-nine percent say their students use the web from one to two hours per week, up from 47 percent last year.

Research continues to be the No. 1 reason for using the internet at school; only 9 percent of teachers say their students use the web for online coursework.


Quality Education Data


At STS, virtual schooling divides education leaders

Setting the technology agenda for the nation’s schools was the theme as superintendents and senior executives from school districts across the country came together in sunny Palm Springs, Calif., to reach a consensus on key ed-tech issues.

The occasion was the third edition of the Superintendents’ Technology Summit, hosted by eSchool News Oct. 21-23. (The next summit will be March 10-12, 2002, in Austin, Texas.)

After briefing by experts on three topics of relevance to school leaders—virtual schooling, how the Children’s Internet Protection Act will impact schools, and how technology can be used to relieve the shortage of qualified teachers—summiteers overwhelmingly chose virtual schooling as their chief topic of concern.

In a presentation given by Julie Young, executive director of the Florida Virtual School in Orlando, attendees heard about the trials and tribulations of starting, funding, and running a completely web-based school.

Among other issues, attendees discussed which entity—state governments, local school districts, the federal government, or the virtual school itself—should be responsible for staff certification, setting curriculum goals, and footing the bill for virtual schools.

Using group interactive feedback technology, summiteers then recorded their positions on each of these issues, and the results differed sharply on many key points from positions taken at an earlier version of the summit held in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., April 30 and May 1 (see our December issue for an in-depth analysis of the most recent findings).

Where the Florida group had near-unanimity on many of the issues surrounding virtual schooling, the Palm Springs group was almost evenly divided on many of these same issues— underscoring the topic’s complexity and how much work remains for school leaders to resolve these issues.

Another topic on the agenda was the new Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), a federal law that requires schools receiving eRate discounts for their internet access or internal connections to adopt internet safety policies and block students’ access to inappropriate materials online. By Oct 27, most schools receiving Year Four eRate discounts were required to certify their compliance with the law.

eSchool News Associate Editor Elizabeth Guerard presented summiteers with a set of milestones for certifying their compliance with CIPA and prompted them to think about the legal and ethical issues pertaining to the law.

Because the law involves the use of internet filtering technologies on school networks, Guerard encouraged superintendents to develop their own set of ideologies about filtering and ask themselves whether receiving eRate funds was reason enough to certify compliance with CIPA.

The third featured consensus-building topic was “Using Technology to Relieve the Teacher Shortage,” presented by Sue Collins, chief education officer of Apex Learning. The discussion revolved around the many ways school leaders can use the internet, teleconferencing, and streaming video to recruit and train new teachers.

Collins discussed a number of distance-learning initiatives for new teachers, the use of virtual job fairs, teacher recruitment clearinghouses on the web, and specific district sites that do a good job of making themselves attractive to new teacher candidates.

Professional development sessions

Besides helping to shape technology policy for these key issues, attendees were able to sharpen their technology leadership skills by taking part in informative sessions on a variety of subjects.

The summit began with an address by Jaron Lanier, chief scientist of the National Tele-immersion Initiative and Eyematics Interfaces Inc. He also is known as “the father of virtual reality,” a term he coined in the 1980s.

Lanier discussed the changing relationship between children and technology in the 21st century. He attributed the popularity of virtual reality, video games, and the internet among teenagers and kids to a residual longing for the limitless world of the imagination.

Children, as consciousness matures, confront the hard realization that instead of being the all-powerful center of the universe, as they had imagined as infants, they actually are small and relatively weak citizens of reality. Virtual reality is appealing, Lanier said, because it blends the opportunity for shared experience, a characteristic of reality, with the fantastic possibilities of the imagination.

“The only concept kids like more than virtual reality is dinosaurs,” Lanier said. The power of this medium lies in creating “shared virtual spaces.”

Lanier also addressed high-stakes testing, arguing that exams claiming to test for very detailed sets of proficiencies are most likely invalid.

“As an educator, you want to have some way to make decisions, but it is not always statistically valid to test for more than three bits [of information],” he said.

Lanier closed by challenging educators to develop programs that allow students to create their own curriculum, citing the success of the ThinkQuest project, in which students create instructional web sites.

“Let’s harness the kids to make the instructional materials,” Lanier urged, explaining that with projects such as ThinkQuest, “the best and brightest kids would be creating educational materials in the language of their peers.”

In a session titled “Communicating Your School District’s Technology Program to Board Members and Business Leaders,” Bill Attea, a former superintendent and current executive secretary of the Suburban School Superintendents Association, urged attendees “to make our colleagues more knowledgeable.”

“There is a potential and promise for technology,” he said. “But there are challenges. We have to overcome the lack of hardware [and] connections, and by and large the software in our schools is very poor.”

In a session called “Balancing Security and a School Climate Conducive to Learning,” Kate Stetzner, a superintendent from Butte, Mont., began by playing a recording of a 911 call she placed to the police when there was a school shooting at her former district. The dramatic recording drove home the importance of taking measures to protect children through whatever means possible—including technology.

Harold Kellogg, a former junior high school principal, advocated the safety benefits of using wireless phones in schools.

In “Cutting Technology Costs through Standards and Audits,” Daryl Ann Borel, assistant superintendent of technology for the Houston school system, outlined the challenges of reducing total cost of ownership (TCO) in school settings. “We keep our computers longer, and it’s safe to say our levels of support are different [than those of businesses]. When a PC fails in business, you call someone, and it is fixed in a matter of hours. But at schools, they say ‘we’ll be around sometime,'” she said.

She recommended a number of ways to reduce TCO. The first is to take advantage of educational pricing programs for technology. The second-best way to reduce costs is by increasing support, she said.

“The cost is not in the box,” Borel said. “We need to make hard decisions and implement software suites, open standards, and centralized processors. Standardizing decreases the complications of support.”

Borel also recommended that educators look at lease purchasing, build strategic partnerships, and track what is done to create some financial models.

In his presentation, “Emerging Technologies: The Management Perspective,” Joe Kitchens, superintendent of Oklahoma’s Western Heights School District, outlined the successful technology initiative he spearheaded in his state.

Oklahoma’s VISION (Virtual Internet School in Oklahoma Network) project invited Dell, Intel, and Microsoft to design an open, extensible, standards-based architecture for the exchange of information among the state’s school districts. Extensible Markup Language compliance “helps enhance communication between students and teachers,” Kitchens said.

He commiserated with attendees on the topic of managing today’s technology-rich school systems. “You have to find a person who has the technology background to drive a converged network, and that person has to be sensitive to what educators need,” he said. “It is not very easy.”

In his session “Damage Control: When Technology Creates a Crisis,” Tom DeLapp, president of Communication Resources for Schools, recommended a number of steps school leaders can take to counteract public-relations problems when they occur, particularly those involving technology use (or misuse).

“Investigate before it percolates,” was one of DeLapp’s primary points. He urged superintendents to get to the bottom of potentially harmful problems—instances such as school employees caught viewing pornography, student privacy breaches, and filtering failures—as soon as possible.

“In the case of a high-profile controversy, don’t worry about Diane Sawyer coming to your district. Worry more about your local press,” he said.

DeLapp also encouraged attendees to make sure to write press statements and news releases, foster productive media relationships, and use district web sites, eMail, and bulletins to promulgate their side of the story.

“Engage in active, aggressive rumor control, and make sure to spotlight rumorists,” he added. “Try to flood them with accurate information.”

In a general session, Dale Mann, professor of education at Columbia Teachers’ College and president of Interactive Inc., noted the lack of a productivity dividend for schools using technology.

“Technology has accounted for 40 percent of the growth in domestic product in the U.S. in the 1990s,” he said. “Transparent technology now exists in all areas of industry, but it does not yet exist in schooling.”

Based on the boom in consumer use of new technologies—in three years, the use of wireless technology among kids will go from 11 million to 43 million—Mann stressed the importance of establishing productivity-based measures for technology adoption.

Teaching is the most labor-intensive craft, and has the most unionized workers, Mann pointed out. A higher percentage of teachers belong to unions than do steel workers or auto workers,” he said. “Concerns about collective bargaining are slowing progress with technology. We have to move from managing teachers to managing learning.”

Mann also emphasized the potential for using computer simulations to help administrators learn how to manage schools.

“Worldwide, there are three irrevocable forces—more democracy, more free markets, and more technology,” he said, adding that school leaders need to ask themselves seriously whether there is a productivity deficit in the way they manage themselves, then ask how technology can reduce that deficit.

Summit sponsors

The third eSchool News Superintendents’ Technology Summit was made possible in part by the support of a number of corporate sponsors:

Achievement Technologies publishes a suite of technology tools designed to improve student achievement and accountability for educators in K-12, post-secondary, and workplace settings. http://www.achievementtech.com

Advanced Academics offers digitally-delivered content in a variety of subjects, ranging from health and physical education to calculus and everywhere in between. http://www.advancedacademics.com

Aladdin Knowledge Systems Inc. is the maker of eSafe, a proactive, multi-tiered content security system, protecting schools against viruses, inappropriate content, and the misuse of school resources. http://www.ealaddin.com

Bigchalk offers a growing family of subscription-based educational products, as well as free resources, accessible 24-7 through the bigchalk.com web site. http://www.bigchalk.com

Compass Learning is a leader in research-driven, standards-based, digital learning solutions that inspire achievement, personalize learning, and connect communities of learners. http://www.compasslearning.com

Electronic Education delivers innovative, technology-based products that meet the educational needs of children in the 21st century, including the Waterford Early Reading program and Knowledge Box. http://www.electroniceducation.com

Homeroom.com, from the Princeton Review, is a web-based assessment and diagnostic tool housing more than 100,000 math and reading questions aligned to all state standards, major classroom textbooks, and specific state and multistate standardized tests. http://www.homeroom.com

InfoHandler designs software that provides teachers and administrators with a solution to the enormous task of managing special-education systems. http://www.infohandler.com

Leadership Technology Group is the creator of group interactive feedback technology (GIFT), a system that employs personal wireless response pads to facilitate meetings and make them more productive. http://www.theltgroup.com

MatchWare is a provider of multimedia tools designed to help schools more effectively create, organize, and distribute information via disk, CD-ROM, network, and the internet. http://www.matchware.net

NetSchools Corp. is the creator of the Orion curriculum management tool and numerous other wireless laptop solutions. http://www.netschools.com

Nortel Networks is a global leader in networking and communications solutions and infrastructure, transforming how the world communicates through the internet using optical long-haul networks, wireless networks, and metro networks. http://www.nortelnetworks.com

Schoolnet is a leader in providing software for data-driven solutions designed to improve student performance. http://www.schoolnet.com

SMART Technologies, the creator of the SMART Board, provides “roomware tools,” including interactive whiteboards, multimedia furniture, whiteboard capture systems, and software. http://www.smarttech.com

SpectraLink designs, manufactures, and markets wireless systems that integrate with a school’s existing phone system to provide telephone access anywhere. http://www.spectralink.com

Sun Cobalt develops and markets server appliances and affordable internet and intranet servers for non-technical users. http://www.cobalt.com

Teacher Created Materials is an educational publishing company and the creator of TechWorks, software designed to help teachers use technology in the classroom. http://www.teachercreated.com

TestU brings high-quality standardized test preparation to everyone by providing powerful, internet-based tutorial programs. http://www.testu.com

VIP Tone integrates content, applications, and infrastructure from leading systems and service providers to deliver integrated portals to schools. http://www.viptone.com

The following educational organizations also lent their support to the Superintendents’ Technology Summit:

Association of California School Administrators

Association for Educational Communications and Technology

Consortium for School Networking

George Mason University

New Mexico Coalition of School Administrators

SchoolTone Alliance


BrainPOP movie answers “What is anthrax?” for kids

BrainPOP, the leading creator of educational animated, Science, Biology and Technology movies for preteens, announces a new movie that answers the question, “What is anthrax?” Over the past two weeks, BrainPOP’s Q and A email service was swamped with questions from 8-14 year-olds about the anthrax scare, asking questions like, “Can I get anthrax at school?” and “Is it safe to open mail?” In a tone that is not scary or condescending, the BrainPOP movie explains where anthrax comes from and reassures kids that exposure to anthrax is very rare and that anthrax is not contagious.


Year Five eRate window opens Nov. 5

A new application period for the eRate is about to begin, and Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) President George McDonald is urging schools to “file early and file online” using a new electronic certification feature.

SLD announced earlier this week that the application window to file Form 471 for Year Five opens Monday, Nov. 5, at noon EST. The eRate is a federal program that provides discounts to eligible schools and libraries on their telecommunications service, internet access, and internal wiring and other connections necessary to bring internet access into classrooms.

Starting Nov. 5, schools will have 74 calendar days to submit Form 471, the form that applicants use to state what services and providers they have selected. The window officially closes Thursday, Jan. 17, 2002 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

All Form 471 applications received during the window—including those received the very last day—will be considered as having arrived simultaneously and will have greater priority than forms received after Jan. 17.

Given the enormous demand for eRate discounts in the last few years, however, schools that choose not to begin the application process within the designated window are unlikely to receive funding. Forms submitted before the application period begins will not be considered.

Filing Form 471 is the second step of the eRate application process. Before schools submit Form 471, they already should have completed Form 470, a “Description of Services Requested,” and posted it on the SLD web site for 28 days. For step-by-step instructions, see the SLD’s web site (link below).


Starting in Year Five, schools will be able to file Form 471 completely online.

Before, schools could complete the form online, but they also had to print out a certification page, sign it, and mail it in. Now, applicants will be permitted to use a personal identification number (PIN) to “sign” the form electronically.

“We are really encouraging people to use the electronic certification. From a selfish point of view, it saves us a lot of time and money,” McDonald said. It also will enable applicants to get a decision from the agency sooner.

The SLD receives more than 30,000 applications each year, and if each one of these applications requires a signed certification page to be mailed in separately, the approval process takes a long time, McDonald said. With electronic certification, the process is simplified and shorter.

Applicants also will benefit by filing online because they will know exactly when an application was submitted, and the electronic version of the form helps avoid simple mistakes.

“It won’t let you put in a date that’s goofy. It won’t let you skip over important information,” McDonald said.

To use eCertification, the person certifying the application on behalf of a school system must get a user identification (ID) number and a PIN.

Identification numbers and PINs are available only for those who have certified an eRate application in previous years, however. “Tens of thousands of people qualify for these user IDs and PINs,” McDonald said.

Those eligible for IDs and PINs can get them on the SLD’s PIN Request web page. “It takes minutes on the web site,” he said.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve switched schools; the only requirement is that SLD has your signature on file. “We need to have a copy of your signature in our database,” McDonald said.

Attachments still must be sent via regular mail, McDonald said, but these need not arrive before the filing window closes.

In addition to filing completely online, applicants should file early, he said.

“Timely notification is dependent upon how early people file and [upon] filing online,” McDonald said. “Eighty-five percent of our applications are filed in the last week.”

There’s no reason people should wait to file their applications, he said. “We hear terrible, horrible stories of things that happen to people, keeping them from missing the filing window, but there isn’t any room for heart in the [Federal Communications Commission’s] rules.”

New Eligible Services List

In addition, the SLD announced that new services—including Internet2, wireless networks, and voice over IP (VoIP)—are now eligible for eRate discounts in Year Five.

Applicants should use the new Eligible Services List, available on the SLD web site, as they prepare Form 471. The new list indicates changes and clarifications in the eligibility of some products and services.

Applicants and service providers should review this new list carefully, McDonald said.

He also added that the Children’s Internet Protection Act, or CIPA, will be “a big deal.” Year Five eRate recipients will have to be in compliance with CIPA when service starts July 1, 2002, he said.

The law requires schools receiving eRate discounts for their internet access or internal connections to adopt internet safety policies and block students’ access to inappropriate materials online. Schools receiving Year Four discounts had to certify only that they were “in the process” of complying.

When asked whether schools should anticipate any last-minute rules changes this year, McDonald said, “I don’t think there will be any changes in rules or priorities from the FCC, especially considering the date now. So it’s steady as she goes…. Over time, we will be bringing all the forms online for electronic certification.”

McDonald offered this final bit of advice for applicants: Check the SLD web site frequently for updates, news flashes, and additional resources.


Schools and Libraries Division

Step-by-Step Application Guide

New Eligible Services List