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Students' use of iPads a minefield

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 7:23 a.m.

It is the second year of iPads for Elizabeth Forward youngsters — and the second year of bracing for the legal problems that could accompany them, both for the kids and their parents.

Other than new students and incoming kindergartners, EF youngsters will use the iPads they had last school year for the second year of a two-year, $550,000-a-year lease of the devices from Apple.

“We want to teach kids digital responsibility,” Superintendent Bart Rocco said as the iPads were being distributed a year ago. “We have a job as responsible adults, too, as educators, teachers and parents, to monitor and regulate (that use).”

During a break from a court hearing last week, Forward Township police officer and district school resource officer Travis Stoffer recalled a quote from Philip L. Little, an education and outreach specialist from Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's office, at a school assembly in May:

“Don't take any pictures of anything you don't want to see on the front page of the newspaper.”

Stoffer believes “kids will be kids,” but he still stressed that EF kids should not take any naked pictures.

At that May assembly at the district's middle school, Magisterial District Judge Beth S. Mills said she had handled as non-traffic matters 10-15 cases of “naked pictures, inappropriate texts and bullying” in her Forward courtroom.

“They were testing the waters,” Mills said.

Have cases gone down since? “For the most part, they really have,” she said. “I think the kids realize the privilege they have.”

In case they don't, they could remember what Mills told middle school students last spring.

“If you send a nasty text or email, it will cost you $450,” she said. It can mean 40 hours of community service and “that is independent of what the school may do.”

Mills and Stoffer said there's another problem parents may not realize.

“When you connect the iPad to the iCloud, if you only have one iCloud account, what you have on that iCloud will go into that iPad,” Stoffer said.

Translation: If parents don't want their kids and their classmates to see something, such as financial or other private matters, get a different account.

Stoffer was testing the waters of his new job last spring, after the Elizabeth Forward school board accepted a $90,000 state Safe Schools grant, $60,000 for the first year and $30,000 for the second.

“To receive this grant is an honor,” board president Philip Martell said. He credited district director of personnel and student services Randal Sydeski and officials in all three district municipalities for securing the grant.

Stoffer has an office at the high school.

However, he said last week, “as the year progresses I may start the day in the middle school, I may start the day in one of the elementary schools.”

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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