UCF seeks to balance safety and students free speech rights

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By JP Phillips, Staff Writer, The Times

EAST MARLBOROUGH — In this world of the internet and technology, how does a school district strike a balance between protecting itself and the responsibility to create safe learning environments with students’ right to free speech?  That was the issue raised by a first reading of policy 815, “Acceptable Use of the Electronic Communication System” at Monday night’s Unionville-Chadds Ford school board meeting.

The policy covers use of both district internet on personal devices and school technology equipment by both students and faculty.  Board member Robert Sage took particular umbrage with several of the 28 general prohibitions listed in the proposed policy.  For example:

  • Item #6 prohibits any communications which, among other things, are “rude,” which Sage labeled as too vague and open to considerable interpretation.
  • Item #21 prohibits the use of technology resources for “political lobbying or campaigning,” exempting student elections. That means students couldn’t electronically express their opinion about issues raised at school board meetings.

As written, “I guarantee that every one of our kids has violated that policy,” Sage stated.  At that point, murmurs were heard from the dozen or so high school AP Government students attending the meeting.

It should be noted that Sage brought up his concerns about this policy not striking the right balance at the Oct 9 work session.  In general, Sage felt that the verbiage was too broad and was too focused more on “protecting the district, not protecting students.”

Board president Vic Dupuis noted that this topic is a great opportunity to involve board student representative Gavin Brezski in the formulation of the new policy.

Superintendent John Sanville stated that the policy language came from the district’s counsel.  He and his team will revisit it and present an updated version at the November work session.

A link to the current proposed policy can be found at the bottom of this article.

The School Board is taking some of their meetings to district schools again this year.  The October 23rd meeting was hosted by principal Dr. Michelle Lafferty at Unionville Elementary.  Lafferty gave an overview of the school’s history, which opened in 1923 to house kindergarten through twelve grade.  It has been an elementary school since 1959.

The new technology lab at Unionville Elementary.

UE Technology teacher Scott Duggin took the opportunity to provide tours of their new technology lab.  They took a room lined with rows of desks and computers designed for independent work and changed it into a collaborative environment.  Round tables and areas with shared monitors encourage students to engage with each other and not just their Chrome book or IPad.  Duggin noted the classroom design helps the students be “the teachers and the collaborators.”  Hillendale Elementary is following a similar design this year and the other two schools are planned for next year.

In other news, Supervisor of Accounting Joe Deady discussed board options for the $2.2 million surplus from last year’s budget, which will be a voting item next month. Board Member Gregg Lindner was joined by other members when he requested a mid-year report clearly showing a spending to budget year-to-date update before they vote on a future budget.  A link to the October 9th Unionville Times article detailing the options is at the end of this article.

In his legislation report, board member Jeff Hellrung reminded the public of the proposed constitutional amendment on property taxes that will be on next month’s ballot.  While it does not change how taxes are calculated now, it allows flexibility for legislators in the future.  Information on the ballot question can be found at the end of this article.

Hellrung also praised the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) on how it provides resources to member districts that it could not provide on their own, like the Technical High School campuses and the Child and Career Development Center for students with severe disabilities.

The board also approved policy 200 on Attendance effective July 2018, which eliminates the loophole that allowed seniors to finish the school year at Unionville high school if they move out of the district after the first week of school.

Board Member Carolyn Daniels reminded the public that the afterschool activities bus will end on November 16th because it was not self-funding.

The board approved the purchase of a new pick-up truck for maintenance and the acceptance of a $39,000 credit from the contractor for summer work done at the middle school.

Next up:  The Curriculum/Education Technology meeting at 4:30, and the School Board work session at 7:30PM on November 13th at the district office, adjacent to the high school.   Meetings are open to the public.  They are broadcasted live (and archived) on the UCFSD web site.

Link to proposed policy 815, “Acceptable Use of the Electronic Communication System”: http://www.boarddocs.com/pa/uncf/Board.nsf/files/ARSQU56AC081/$file/815%20Acceptable%20Use%20of%20the%20Electronic%20Communications%20System%2C%201st%20reading.pdf

Link to the Unionville Times article detailing the $2.2 million surplus options: http://www.unionvilletimes.com/?p=36913

Information on the ballot item regarding property taxes: http://www.boarddocs.com/pa/uncf/Board.nsf/files/ARSP4H62C643/$file/Handout-Constitutional-Amendment.pdf

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