Computer changes
School system updating its policy

COVINGTON - With the recent popularity of Internet social networking Web sites like MySpace and Facebook among school-aged children, the Newton County School System is updating its computer use policy, and students could face disciplinary action if they inappropriately use school computers.

"Every student will be given the privilege to use computer resources as part of the educational mission of the school system," reads the Acceptable Use portion of the proposed Use of Computers/Communication Resources policy. "The privilege to use computer resources may be suspended or revoked, and the student may face disciplinary action if the student exhibits behavior that constitutes 'unacceptable use.'"

Discipline, which is at the discretion of a school administrator, also includes in- or out-of-school suspension or referral to a formal hearing or law enforcement, according to the policy.

The policy, IFBG, was last updated April 22, 2003. Before that, it was updated in November 2001 and January 1999; it was created in May 1996.

Previously, the Acceptable Use section only read: "Users will receive the privilege of using the computer resources in support of academic activities. The student and his/her parent/guardian will be required to sign an Acceptable Use Contract prior to use of the Electronic Networks."

The proposed updated policy also allows parents to sign a form to not allow their children to use school computers.

The new policy also would prohibit students from accessing Web sites to play games, unless approved by an administrator or the student's teacher, according to the Unacceptable Use section of the policy.

"It would be nice for it to say only for instruction, but it doesn't quite always work that way, especially at the high school level," said Linda Hayden, assistant superintendent for curriculum at NCSS, during the board's March work session about that part of the policy.

Bullying is also addressed in the proposed policy.

"A user shall not use the computer resources of the school system to bully or to threaten a student or staff member," reads the new section of the policy. "If a user bullies or threatens a student or employee of the school system by using technology resources outside the school system, including, but not limited to, social networking sites, and this action materially or substantially disrupts the learning environment of a school, that user may be subject to disciplinary action or may be turned over to law enforcement officials."

The proposed policy also prohibits short-term substitute teachers from using the school system's network and says that all users can't post personal messages on the school system's e-mail lists or Intranet until after prior approval from the director of public relations or the director of technology.

"We are trying to be as preventative as possible but provide the maximum use for learning," Hayden said at the meeting.

Sections dealing with hacking, vandalism, obscenity, theft and plagiarism from the original policy, which can be accessed through www.newtoncountyschools.org, remain in the revised copy.

In keeping with board practice, the Newton County Board of Education voted to table the Use of Computers/Communication Resources policy, along with two other policies, until its next meeting so it will remain open for one month.

The board will vote on the policies at its next meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 22. All meetings are held in the board room at the Newton County Board of Education, located at 2109 Newton Drive N.E. in Covington.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.