Fairfield schools maintain social network ban as Westport high relents
School officials in neighboring Westport and Fairfield take divergent paths on policies governing students' use of social-networking sites at school.
Fairfield's school district has a district-wide ban on students' access to Facebook and other popular sites on school computers, but John Dodig, the principal at Westport's Staples High School, recently lifted a nearly five-year ban on Facebook at the school.
The ban was scrapped, in part, because students were accessing Facebook via their smartphones and proxies -- websites that allow students, for example, to bypass a block on school computers. In addition, teachers are becoming much more "tech-savvy," said Dodig, and started asking why Facebook could not be used in the classroom as part of the learning process.
"We are so dedicated to changing the paradigm of education that we are determined to use whatever tool is useful to kids to help them to meet our school goal," he said, "which is to not be afraid of being confronted by ill-defined problems, knowing how to form a group to solve the problem, knowing how to access relevant and accurate information and come up with a solution and present their findings or solution to an audience in a persuasive articulate manner."
The Staples principal added, "We are asking teachers to create lessons in ways that are familiar to kids."
While students may find ways around a block to accessing Facebook on a school computer, or a ban on social networks in general, James Coyne, headmaster of Fairfield Warde High School, doesn't feel that should influence a decision to lift a ban.
"Why would the school have to provide something the kids already have?" he said. "That's not a good enough argument."
Coyne said Fairfield's continued ban on school access to Facebook is a "way to demonstrate to the kids that there's a time and place for everything" and that school equipment should be used to "focus on things relevant to your learning."
"While social media is an integral part of a teenager's life, encouraging its use during the school day is not educationally sound," she said.
Paul Barlow, a junior at Fairfield Ludlowe, believes if the ban is lifted, "there's going to be a lot of kids in the library," logging on to Facebook and wasting time that could be used more productively.
But since most teens have smartphones that can access the Internet, why would they need to use a school computer to access a social-networking site?
Barlow said many phones are more limited than school computers, in that "you can't tag or post over the phone," and also Facebook's chat feature is slower when not on a laptop or fixed computer.
Dodig said he had imposed the Facebook ban at Staples in 2006 after an incident of cyber-bullying, a time before nearly every student had a smartphone.
"Based on what I knew, it was the right decision at that time," he said.
Robin Stiles, Staples' library media specialist, believes Dodig made the right choice in reversing the ban.
"They're accessing it anyway," she said. "Facebook is no more addictive than the games that they can get to."
Stiles said allowing students access to Facebook will challenge them to manage their time, something they will have to do in the real world, where there are all kinds of distractions.
"They've got to be able to prioritize their tasks," she said.
Staples senior Kelsey Lewis said Facebook doesn't distract her while in school, but when she sits in the back of the room in one of her classes, she sometimes has noticed that as much as half the class is logged onto the social-networking site.
Seventeen-year-old Ali Jabick occasionally checks in on Facebook using her iPhone, she said, about twice in a school day.
Staples senior Amanda Pacilio isn't sure if she likes the fact the ban has been lifted. "I don't really like how I get distracted in class," she said.
Staples senior and gymnast Morgan Cravenho said when Facebook was blocked, it was "easier to get your work done." Since there is not a district-wide ban on social networking sites and YouTube in the Westport school system, Cravenho and friend Jamie Onischuk, a junior, were able to video chat on a laptop, via Skype, with friends from Great Britain during a free period Tuesday afternoon.
In Fairfield, Ludlowe senior Henry Dunay thinks it's pointless to have a schol ban on social-network sites when students are basically accessing the restricted sites through their phones or proxy servers, such as cheesecamera.com and btunnel.com. And even if the school also blocks those proxy servers from providing access to restricted sites, "there's always new ones being made," said Dunay.
Facebook, he added, should be the least of school officials' concerns regarding students. "They should be focusing on hard drugs," he said.