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Four Wisconsin schools block social media access in pilot project

The pilot project began May 1 in three Madison high schools. Access to social media was terminated in a fourth school yesterday. The schools have shut down free Wi-Fi that allowed students to access Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and 30 other platforms.

Cindy Green, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Madison School District. said the district is trying to improve the climate in schools and increase learning. One way to do this is to restrict cellphone usage and access to social media during the school day.

The purpose of the pilot project is two-fold; to protect students from getting into dangerous situations on social media and to concentrate more on learning.

The four schools selected in the pilot project were chosen because of the willingness of the principals to participate. Mike Hernandez, principal of East High School, described students who are the most disengaged. These are the ones the principal said do what he calls “the zombie walk.” These students walk down the halls with their heads down, stuck on their cellphones.

Not everyone was pleased with the decision. One student said while she understands why it is being done, Wi-Fi is a valuable resource to keep in touch with other students and family. The students were reassured they could still use their electronic devices to contact their family in case of an emergency. All classrooms have at least one phone in them and there are land lines in the office for those who know how to use a land line.

Some parents told Hernandez the pilot project is wrong. Students should be taught how to use the Internet responsibly instead of taking it away. While Hernandez does not disagree with that, he said they also have to learn algebra.

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The fact the free Wi-Fi is cut off will not prevent students from accessing social media sites if they have a private data plan. The schools are asking parents to take away or at least restrict their children’s usage during school hours.

In the Madison School District, elementary students are not allowed to have cellphones during school hours and the devices must be stored in their lockers. But the policy varies throughout middle and high schools. As well as noting any correlation between learning and the ability to access social media, the district his hoping to come up with a uniform policy.

The pilot project in the four schools is scheduled to run until the end of the school year.

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