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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Hillsborough schools tweaking policies on phone, tablet use

TAMPA — Several months after rolling out an initiative that allows students to use their own computers, tablets and smartphones in the classroom for educational purposes, the Hillsborough County School Board is refining its rules for how those devices can be used at school.

“This is such new territory for us,” Chairwoman Carol Kurdell said during a Tuesday workshop on the issue. “Let’s try it on for a fit, see what happens and we will refine it as we go along.”

The proposed new technology policy says anyone using a personal device on district property should “lose any expectations of privacy in the content of their files on their device during investigations related to inappropriate use of the device.”

The policy points to the standards laid out in already existing policies about appropriate student and staff use of the Internet, which were also tweaked.

Additions to those policies include a call for students and staff to go through training on Internet safety, the dangers of disclosing personal information online and the consequences of cyberbullying. Teachers will be tasked with monitoring their students’ online activity and teaching them about using technology appropriately.

Some board members expressed concern over the monitoring and disciplining of students who may be using their devices inappropriately at school.

“You have one school that may be really honing in on finding out what kids are looking at and you may have another school that might be loosey-goose on that,” board member Susan Valdes said.

Member April Griffin said she would like to consider ways students could work on their “digital citizenship” during their lunch period and on the school bus. One way, she said, could be to allow students to use their cell phones to surf the web or listen to music during their free time, just as adults do during breaks from work.

“If we’re teaching true digital citizenry, we need to treat them like adults in the work place,” Griffin said.

Also Tuesday, board members and district staff discussed changes to the athletic transfer policy the board has talked about at length during multiple board meetings over the last few months.

Revisions to that policy broaden the list of exemptions students can argue that they meet, including financial, academic or family hardships, military orders and transferring from a charter or private school to their home-zoned school.

Now that all district policies have been updated, two public hearings will lead up to the board’s final approval in March.

The district’s current athletic transfer policy, which has recently been at the forefront of two lawsuits, bars most student transfers from participating in sports for one calendar year. Students can appeal to the Transferring Student-Athletes Participation Committee, which includes school district officials and community members.

“The idea is to try to find a way to say ‘yes,’” district athletic director Lanness Robinson said.

If the committee rules a student ineligible to play, the final appeal is to the school board.

The proposed policy aims to provide the committee with flexibility, school board attorney Jim Porter said. But it also makes it tougher for students to fight the decision of a district appeals committee by bringing their appeal to the school board. The proposed policy states that the school board cannot consider any new “evidence” that a student who has transferred to a new school is eligible to play sports beyond what has been presented to the committee.

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