Pocahontas BOE Reaches Decision on Allowing Staff Use of Personal Devices at School
A number of staff members of the Pocahontas County Schools, for quite a while have been actively advocating to be allowed to use their personal cell phones or other devices while at work. The primary reason they cited was safety, since during an emergency teachers and other staff members would be able to call 911 or notify other staff during an emergency using these personal devices.
Three of the five county schools -Marlinton Elementary School; Marlinton Middle School; and Hillsboro Elementary School – already have access to commercial cellular signals, and right now can use their cellular devices pursuant to the schools’ Personnel Acceptable Use Policy. That policy basically prohibits personal device use by staff while they are instructing or supervising students.
The issue advocated by some now would be to allow staff at the two schools with no commercial cell service -PCHS and Green Bank Elementary/Middle School – to link their personal devices to the school’s Broadband Network in order to access the Internet, receive and send texts and make phone calls.
The board members held a work session before the regular June 7th BOE meeting, to discuss this issue and help to reach a final decision on this issue.
The safety issues of communication during emergencies were addressed by Ruth Bland, who represented Superintendent Beam who was unable to attend this meeting. Bland said the schools have already been addressing those communications during emergencies issues. Bland explained that staff already have access to three forms of emergency communication in every classroom:
- Voice over IP phones, which can directly reach 911 or any other phone number.
- Hand held radios that can reach all other staff in the school, including the front office which has access to analog land line phones.
- A new intercom system that allows communications throughout the school.
Bland said the only additional measure would be to allow the school staff to access the school’s broadband network with their personal devices. She said that opening access to personal devices risks violations of federal laws protecting student’s educational records and student privacy, as well as the possible introduction of malicious computer viruses, including ransomware into the school network.
So, Bland said to safely do this, those staff connecting their personal devices to the school network would have to allow the schools to access everything on their personal device. This would subject them to discipline, or even loss of teacher certification, if anything unauthorized is found on their personal device. Bland said it would also require the schools to create another broadband network which would not have access to student records, which would be incredibly expensive to create. In addition, Bland said this is unneeded since every classroom already has a phone capable of making outside calls, as well as the intercom system and hand-held radios.
When the item came up for a vote during the regular meeting, four of the five board members voted to not allow that access to the school network by the staff’s personal devices. Only member Sam Gibson, citing recent school shootings, voted to allow that access.
Be sure to keep listening to Allegheny Mountain Radio for part two of this story about the June 7th Pocahontas County Board of Education Meeting, where we tell you about the other items discussed and voted on at the meeting.