Five years in to Shawnee Mission’s 1:1 tech initiative, some parents have big concerns with district’s iPads, Macbooks

A group of parents are asking the district to take action to address concerns with use of district-issued iPads and Macbooks — both in and out of the classroom.

Not long after becoming Shawnee Mission superintendent in 2013, Jim Hinson announced a sweeping technology program that would provide an Apple iPad or Macbook to each and every student in the district, a “1:1 technology initiative” that Hinson said would bring the district into the modern era and provide vast learning opportunities to students.

Five years later, a group of Shawnee Mission parents are asking the district to check its work.

An organized group of parents showed up in force at Monday’s board of education meeting to express persistent concerns with the implementation of the 1:1 initiative. Among the issues they raised:

  • The district has no standard for how the devices are used in elementary schools, meaning some young students are spending hours of screen time on iPads each day in the classrooms
  • Parents have no way to control children’s use of their devices when they aren’t in class. Some young students will spend all their time on bus rides or between classes on their devices, compounding concerns about mounting screen time.
  • The district’s security measures have been faulty, allowing students to access inappropriate content, from sexually explicit photos to music with adult lyrics, on their school-issued devices.
  • The devices provide constant opportunities for distraction, making concentration difficult for students with attention deficit disorders.
  • Troubleshooting issues with the district’s virtual private network, which students are required to use to turn in homework assignment, and other glitches have eaten into time that could have been spent on instruction or study.

Gretchen Shanahan, the mother of students at East Antioch Elementary and the first of 13 parents to address the board Monday, noted that the district had laudable goals — increasing the opportunities for personalized learning and improving achievement and engagement — when it launched the program. But, she said, there are many concerns about progress on those goals and at what cost.

“After five years, though, we as parents have no way of knowing whether these goals have been achieved,” Shanahan said. “Further, we have deep concerns, shared by experts in the medical and mental health communities that the widespread use of the 1:1 devices, K-12, is having ill effects.”

The group asked the district to commit to a thorough review of the program with the goal of answering the following questions:

  • Is this initiative the best way for our children to learn?
  • Is use of personal devices healthy for their brain development?
  • How are our children being protected from inappropriate content on their personal devices?

District commits to creating Digital Learning Advisory Council

Drew Lane, the district’s executive director of information and computer technology, told the board that filtering out inappropriate content was a pillar of the district’s security protocol — but acknowledged that it was a challenge to keep up with the changing environment.

Prior to Monday’s board meeting, some of the parents met with Assistant Superintendent of Personalized Learning Christy Ziegler and Executive Director of Information and Computer Technology Drew Lane to discuss their concerns.

Ziegler and Lane spoke Monday as well, indicating that they understood the parents’ concerns, and would be looking into improving communication with parents about the 1:1 initiative and considering standards for use of the devices in and out of the classroom.

Lane stressed that filtering out inappropriate content was one of the pillars of the district’s security measures for all of the 1:1 devices. But he acknowledged that keeping up with the potential opportunities for inappropriate content to slip through was a constant challenge.

“This is a very rapidly changing landscape. It changes daily,” Lane said.

Lane also said that the district was piloting a feature on elementary school iPads at Trailwood that gave parents the ability to control how the devices are used out of the classroom.

First-year Superintendent Mike Fulton addressed the issue as well, noting that the administration had committed to creating a Digital Learning Advisory Council that would be tasked with examining and suggesting solutions for many of these concerns. But he also asked parents to consider the learning opportunities such technology offers.

“We’re thankful to have the digital devices that are available to us for our students, and we recognize that they are great tools for learning,” Fulton said. “They need to be used appropriately. And, very important, they offer up the world of opportunity to our students 24/7, so that even students who may be limited in the resources that they have at home have an equal footing with their peers at school.”