Letter: Additional thoughts on the proposed Neary School iPad Pilot

by beth on October 24, 2013

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

Another Letter to the Editor:

As we gather our thoughts in preparation for next week’s Oct. 30th meeting, I would like to share some additional thoughts on the proposed Neary School iPad Pilot Project since the past two meetings.

One of my main concerns continues to be the proposed screen time involved in this project. I brought this concern forward at the school committee meeting and was told to look out for a Q & A on the Neary School website. It appeared shortly thereafter. After reviewing the Q & A response to screen time, I was disappointed by the lack of depth to the response including a very unprofessional remark re: Sponge Bob vs. IXL. Some of us feel screen time is screen time regardless of the material being viewed. It is not fair to say that the issue is interactive screen time vs. passive screen time as we all know the Wii game system is also interactive screen time. This is such a major and serious concern for parents that I decided to research it further since the recent school committee meeting.

On October 11, on www.mysouthborough.com Concerned Father states:
“And, do parents realize, this is not about using technology in school, this is about using iPads for up to 1/3 of the child’s entire school day–that is up to 2 hours and 15 minutes of their day, plus computer lab, as well as Internet and iPad homework when they get home.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children do not exceed more than 2 hours (including educational screen time) during their day. The children have exceeded that time, recommended by their school system, before they even get off the bus, do homework on their iPads, never mind Internet homework, a video game or TV show.”

According to Dr. Aric Sigman, “Screen time causes the release of dopamine, a chemical that contributes to learning and concentration. As a result, our brains may become desensitized to the effects of normal levels of dopamine, making it hard to concentrate and focus on non-screen-based stimuli.”

I researched this further to include educational screen time and children with ADD/ADHD as I uncovered there are a number of students with ADD/ADHD currently enrolled at Neary. These children will be directly affected by this pilot program.

Dr. Steve Hinshaw, Child Mind Institute, Co-Chair, Scientific Research Council Vice-Chair, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco says in an email to me:

“I would recommend, during the school week, limiting screen time to 1-1.5 hours per day and perhaps somewhat more on weekends. For kids with ADHD, certainly no more and maybe less, though hard to enforce.”

When asked, how much daily screen time including educational screen time is appropriate for children with ADHD? Linda Karanzalis, Learning Specialist, ADDvantages Learning Center states in an email to me: “No more than an hour and a half a day.”

Last night I received a call from a mother in Ashland who has been following the story here in Southborough. She states: “The BioInitiative Report 2012: A Rationale for Biologically-based Public Exposure Standards for Electromagnetic Fields (ELF and RF) has demonstrated beyond scientific doubt that wi-fi devices are a health risk, particularly to children. How do you propose we safeguard our children against the radiation emitted by wireless tablet devices and wi-fi routers?”

By incorporating the iPad into 25-33% of the child’s day (as outlined in the 9/24 school’s notes), the school committee is proposing a major overhaul to the face of education as we know it, so it should not be a surprise that people take issue with it.

The bottom line from what I am hearing from most people is: #1 Parents want to see a solid written project plan including a timeline, specific goals, measurable objectives and deliverables including a day in the life of a child with the proposed iPad Pilot Project and a day in the life of a child who opts out. By providing this type of information, some parents mind sets will move. #2 People don’t want to have to foot the bill; there is no reason this couldn’t be addressed if the committee gave it some more time to come up with funds. 

Before starting a family, I raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in my work with Habitat for Humanity with little to no resources–just determination and the ability to communicate. It can be done. So, those two issues could be addressed right there given proper planning.

The issues of age appropriateness and logistics are not as easily solved. Many parents feel 4th grade is too young to launch this initiative; Trottier (6th-8th grade) is a more fitting environment. Parents also have issues with this being a take-home program for two reasons–the logistics of a 9-year-old traveling with an iPad and the imposition of more electronics in our homes.

As noted, there are too many outstanding issues to rush this through for a January start date. Those in favor of the proposed project have commented on why has it taken this long for people to speak up. As the saying goes, money talks. In this case, that is exactly what happened. The hefty price tag just in time for the holidays got everyone’s attention. However, I believe the money part could be worked out if everyone put their heads together. One parent said, in Southborough our kids fly to D.C. for their class trip rather than take the bus; Santa arrives on a helicopter instead of a fire truck (even though we love that). I have heard the term “elitist approach” used with this project assuming parents would foot the bill. Why not an opt-in program vs. an opt-out program?

It has been said, that it is just a minority of people who feel this way. That is not the case. More than 100 people have signed a petition that I was ASKED to bring to the school committee meeting, and I haven’t even promoted it. My only goal with that was to let the committee know that we are not a minority.

Regarding the technology presentation last night, one mother summed it up best when she said, I felt like I was in the wrong conference room at a hotel.” Mr. Daccord’s presentation was scripted. During the brief time allotted for audience Q&A, he failed to answer any questions with detail. The key comments that he did share was that there isn’t any cognitive data published stating that iPads improve a child’s learning experience as this is “too new”. Additionally, he has only been involved with 1:1 iPad integration for 18 months. In my opinion, the $1000, one-hour presentation did more damage than good. The committee should have asked the parents if they wanted this keynote speaker last night. My guess is they would have said no. We would like a presentation re: the use of the technology by the teachers–the ones implementing it long after Mr. Daccord has left town to move on to his next speaking engagement.

We are holding out hope for the documentation being distributed this Friday, Oct. 25th and hope everyone comes out to the meeting next week on Oct. 30th at 6.30 p.m., Trottier School auditorium.

Thank you.

Fiona Maguire-O’Shea

1 Concerned Parent October 24, 2013 at 4:27 PM

Fiona, thank you for what you’re doing. I have a 3rd grader and a 6th grader and am involved in the schools but I was completely unaware of the planned pilot until I read your contributions to this blog. I’m guessing that’s the case for many other parents, too.

I signed your petition and I will be at the meeting next week. This is an important issue and there is strength in numbers. I’d urge everyone who feels strongly about the proposed program to attend next week’s meeting.

2 Resident October 24, 2013 at 8:25 PM

I strongly disagree with much of what is said by Ms. Maguire-O’Shea.

Originally she had concerns about paying for the project and with her son losing the expensive IPAD. Now it seems like she has added a laundry list of concerns in an effort to kill this project. I get the feeling that if everyone of her concerns were met, she would just invent more. I don’t understand why she is so vehemently opposed to this program.

I’m sorry some students have ADHD but does that mean that every other student has to be treated as if they do too? It is not unreasonable to make accommodations for students who have special needs. It doesn’t mean that we should kill the project for everyone else.

On the subject of wi-fi being bad – there is wifi everywhere these days. The schools already have wi-fi, the mall has wi-fi, most businesses have wi-fi, and I think most houses in Southborough have wi-fi. This is a red herring argument.

I don’t understand what the fact that she worked for Habitat for Humanity has to do with whether we should have IPADs in the schools in Southborough.

As for the petition, all it addressed was whether parents should pay for the program, not whether we should have one. I wonder how many of those 100 people would have signed if it had worded as a challenge to the program’s existence. I also wonder how many who signed it even have children in the Southborough schools. The petition was publicized on this site and I understand there was a link to it on on her facebook page which presumably all her friends and relatives saw. How many of them signed it? I don’t put much value in that petition.

I hope parents who support moving forward with the program attend the meeting next week. While there have been many reasonable concerns raised, I do believe that most people believe there is value in the program.

3 Fiona October 26, 2013 at 5:57 PM

Thank you for your thoughtful response outling the specifics of your position. A point to clarify: 89 of 101 signatures on the petition are Southboro residents.

4 Supportive Neary 4th grade Parent October 27, 2013 at 2:19 PM

Thank you for your response. Since you have been kind enough to quantify one aspect of your petition, it would also be helpful to have a further clarification as to how many of the 89 are not from the same family and have current 4th grade students at Neary?

5 Fiona October 27, 2013 at 8:55 PM

I am out of state at the moment but happy to bring a copy of the petition to the Oct. 30th meeting, and you can do you own analysis. Thank you.

6 Mark Ford October 28, 2013 at 6:56 PM

…personally speaking, I sign many petitions to help them get in front of the voters, whether I support them or not. I may be in the distinct minority here.

7 Parent October 27, 2013 at 1:29 PM

I do not know Fiona very well on a personal basis nor am I on Facebook. I have listened to all of the arguments and conducted research myself. I signed the petition because of the well presented information from Fiona. I do not believe that those in opposition are out to “derail” the program and I think that personal attacks on Fiona and others in opposition are abhorrent. People should be allowed to disagree and not be put down. MANY of us disagree with the Pilot for very valid reasons and no one should be for speaking out.

8 Supportive Neary 4th grade Parent October 27, 2013 at 5:55 PM

This was not a personal attack, nor a put down- just looking for information. This has nothing to do with her. I respect that she is so committed to understanding the proposal. I, too am committed to understanding the proposal. Because she is the one that is quoted so often , including here in this blog, and initiated the petition it made sense to request a break down on the numbers from her since outcomes could affect all of our children’s access to the this program. We are all looking out for the best interests of our children.

9 Supportive Neary 4th grade Parent October 25, 2013 at 12:58 PM

Thank you for your post Resident! Each point was spot on. The “assault” has been a manic public relations campaign at best. You have captured exactly what many are thinking yet are hesitant to post because this blog has offered a one-sided debate who’s only goal is to kill the project rather thank work together towards a successful solution for our children.

10 beth October 25, 2013 at 1:14 PM

I have to respond to the “one-sided” debate. I have encouraged everyone to weigh in with their opinions. That includes posting a letter to the editor in support of the pilot from Beth Sullivan earlier today.

With the protection of anonymity, I hope that no residents are “hesitant” to share their views.

As long as the comments fit with in guidelines, I would like this to be a forum where everyone can express their opinions on public matters.

It’s by sharing concerns and points of view that residents can seek to find compromise or common ground. Sometimes that is hard to do in public, where someone may worry that their opinion will be met with personal criticism.

11 Dad October 25, 2013 at 2:08 PM

I am currently against the PILOT, but I will provide a website discounting the wifi is bad point. In summary, this website states “In the case of EMF and health, the overwhelming majority of scientists see no good evidence for health effects. The BIR represents the views of a small minority.”
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/picking-cherries-in-science-the-bio-initiative-report/

I hope the health effects argument can get dropped because it takes away from the more constructive debate, which is?

Does the community really support this?
If so is there really value?
If so does the value exceed the costs? and who should burden the costs?
If so do/should opposers have the right to opt out?

Number 3 is an opinion and mine is flexible depending on the answers to 1 and 2. I respect the beliefs of others and think there should be consideration for point 4, particularly if the numbers total an amount that could make up an entire classroom.

12 Neighbour October 25, 2013 at 2:44 PM

Why iPad? Why not Android, Chromebook, Windows desktop or laptop?
Lets do PS3 or XBox. Kids would love it.
On top of it spent 50$ on App card?

Is this project for real?

Purchase cost of the iPad, case, and $50 app card: $570
Comprehensive insurance policy with no deductible and unlimited
incidents: from $43 for 1 year to $123 for 3 years
Extended warranty: $52 for 1/year extension, $111 for 2/year
extension (1st year is covered by Apple’s warrant

13 SBRes October 25, 2013 at 7:02 PM

I’d just like to stress that my opposition to the project is for multiple reasons. Yes, cost is a major factor, but it is also wrapped up in the maturity level of the students. If you listen to most complaints they are not against an iPad program, they are against one in the 4th grade.

The other major issue is that there has been no real communication as to the details of the project. I want to say that I do believe that the technology committee has worked hard and has made a proposal that they believe is best, but that doesn’t make it the best plan. I can’t say for sure since details were not available – I know the information packet was released today (I have not had a chance to read it yet but will), but that really helps my point. The information packet is out at the end of October and the iPads need to be purchased in the next few weeks – I would have expected this information months ago in order to raise and answer questions earlier. In all honesty we should have been having these discussions long before now.

Most of us want to make sure we are doing this in the best way possible. Afterall, computers have been arround and easily accessible for what – the last 20 years. I don’t think that schools (all schools not just ours) use them to the best of their abilities. A PC/Laptop can do a lot mote than an iPad. iPads are also still relatively new and not necessarily proven – the business world hasn’t fully accepted them so why do schools?

Again, examples of questions I would like to see addressed – I have many more. Also, the process is very restrictive and detremental to advancing. I’ve known about this for about three weeks now and the only avenue to discuss this seems to have been the blogs – communication is the key and needs to be done better and quicker.

Also, I can’t believe that people would think that their is any other motive for either side except for what is best for the children. Afterall the school board is asking me to gamble with my childs education and they better have all their ducks in a row for such a large bet.

14 sboro parent October 25, 2013 at 10:15 PM

I would like to remind everyone that whether you are for or against the project, please be respectful and refrain from attacking people personally. I am very disappointed by some personal attacks that I have read and heard at these meetings. There is no place for that. Everyone should be working toward a plan that is best for the children. I understand that some feel it is important for their children to be exposed to technology as soon as possible and some have concerns that they would like better explained before being on board. I have been offended by the level of rudeness that some have lowered themselves to. As we get ready for this meeting on the 30th, please stick to the facts that you are discussing and don’t attack people – or their children!!! I hope we can work together on a compromise which will work well for all children and don’t have to find an app for manners and respect…

15 Matthew Brownell October 28, 2013 at 3:02 PM

Most mysterious – the somewhat bizarre agenda being driven by Ms. Maguire O’Shea. .
Equally eye-raising and suspect is that the “BioIntiative Report 2012: A Rationale for Biologically-based Public Exposure Standards for Electromagnetic Fields (ELF and RF)” is now referenced by Ms. Maguire, implying that wireless emissions of classroom IPad use should be a source of public concern. Among the genius experimental foundations for this study: exposing mice to ridiculously long durations (7 days per week/ 12+ hours per day!!) of radio frequency electromagnetic radiation (RFEMR).

While I would prefer to get my entertainment from studies of shrimp running on treadmills, if my children are fixed on ANY electronic device for 12+ hours per day, I can assure you, the problems are certainly more extensive and insidious than potential health concerns of RF emissions.

The IPad is a tool. It is meant to augment/supplement the educational process. It does not replace teachers or the incumbent requirement to research, organize, synthesize, and present information. It is not a substitute to parenting. It is not a babysitter. At best, the IPad is catalyst to learn, and an efficient information management device.

I think my children are up to the responsibility, and deserve the tools of the 21st century.

16 Dad October 28, 2013 at 4:22 PM

Matthew, That is great that your kids are up to the responsibility and that you feel that they deserve the an education that uses these 21st century tools. I mean that seriously. However the point is, there are people who disagree with your opinion. Regardless of their tactics used to fight the issue, (ps: you can’t blame them, the feeling is this is being forced on us out of nowhere) do you have the right to force the people who oppose this to buy and use this really expensive tool just because you want it for your children?

Personally, I agree with your description of the iPad. But… I don’t think the cost of this tool is worth the benefit and if we are going to force it on people who don’t agree with it philosophically, it seems particularly unfair to then make them pay for it.

17 4th grade parent October 29, 2013 at 8:39 AM

Mr. Brownell,

One of the biggest argument is if 4th grade is too young. Do you have kids in 4th grade? If not, could you please let us know in which grade they are.

Thank you!

18 Fiona October 28, 2013 at 4:44 PM

Thanks, Matt. Point to clarify: the report referenced is not a point to primarily focus on and to do so clouds the main points outlined in my original letter two weeks ago.. I was asked to present that particular issue by a mother who is researching this topic in depth. Perhaps those in favor of the project posting on mysouthborough could offer counterpoints to the points I have raised thus far instead of criticism, as per Mrs. Murdock’s letter yesterday. I have made sure to keep my communication on the up and up so everyone feels comfortable to offer a constructive response. Thank you!

19 sboro concerned parent October 30, 2013 at 4:28 PM

According to the Mass Dept of Education, the current opt-out program is illegal. The school system cannot discriminate against anyone for opting out for any reason. If a child opts out, they must be given exactly the same equal rights as the child who opts in (taking the iPad home to complete school assignments and homework). Having other homework options that are different from the opt in children is illegal and discrimination. The DOE said that if the policy is not changed, the Dept will get involved to make sure that all children have exactly the same rights and are allowed identical advantages from the iPad program.

I am not someone who has been speaking out before and am not necessarily against the program, but I am for equal rights for every child involved. When I read the guidelines for the opt out program, I felt that I had to question it, and everyone should know that it is against the law. All children should be treated equal and given exactly the same opportunities. I am happy to know that the Mass law supports that and will enforce it.

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