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October 26,  2010

Brandywine personnel must sever
electronic links with children

Teachers, coaches and other Brandywine School District employees will be forbidden to engage in so-called social networking, send text messages to or otherwise have personal electronic contact with any student under a new policy unanimously approved by the school board.

There was no indication during discussion at the board meeting on Oct. 25 that there were any incidents prompting the move. The draft of the document presented to the board said the policy was intended "to minimize the potential for inappropriate contact ... and-or the appearance of impropriety."

There also was no indication of how widespread the soon-to-be-banned practices are, but board member Ralph Ackerman remarked that it is an issue that "all districts around the country" are attempting to deal with.

The board agreed to make the policy effective Jan. 15 to provide time for district lawyer Ellen Cooper to draft regulations to implement it while acquainting employees, students and parents with the rules. Violation of the policy or regulations will subject the perpetrator to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.

In other matters brought before the board at the meeting a process for naming the new elementary school being constructed in Chalfonte was presented and Superintendent Mark Holodick reported on cost savings and accident reduction as a result of the revamping of school-bus routes and pickup points.

The ban on electronic links specifies that it applies to any child currently or formerly enrolled in any public or private elementary or secondary school who has not reached his or her majority and is no longer attending school. That age is not specified, but for most legal purposes is presumed to be 18.

Exempted from the policy are children who are members of the employee's family or close relatives.

Cooper said existing independent, Facebook and other contact sites will not be 'grandfathered' under the policy. They must be ended or brought within the scope of the policy by its effective date. The process of ending such contacts is referred to  jargonly as 'defriending'.

The Brandywine policy says that district employees may maintain personal networking and e-mail accounts for "activities outside the scope of his [or] her employment and with personally owned equipment." It is unclear to what extent access to or contact with those is to be limited. But the policy does state that employees may not disseminate any "personally identifiable information" about students nor photographs "taken on school property or a school-sponsored event."

It also provides that athletic coaches and other licensed employees may maintain educational and informational sites provided they receive written permission from their principal at the start of each academic year. In such cases, the permitted sites must pertain exclusively to school-related activity and access limited to current students. Access also must be granted to  allow the students' parents, a district office representative and at least one administrator in the school affected to monitor contents of  the site.

On the other hand, district personnel may use district or school websites and the state Department of Education home access center to have electronic contact with students and their families.

The process for naming the new school on the site of the former Hanby Middle School involves several steps between now and the school board meeting in February at which the choice is to be announced. Both the present Brandywood Elementary and the Bush Early Learning Center will be housed in the new building, which will be opened at the beginning of or during the next academic year.

Brandywood students will be asked to suggest names and will vote on which they prefer with the top three vote-getters being entered into the districtwide selection process. That process will be open to the public, which will be able to submit suggested names until Dec. 15. Forms for that purpose will be available on the district website, in Brandywood and Bush, and at the district office.

Holodick will then select members of a 'naming committee', to include teachers, parent-teacher association presidents, representatives of the district renovations and marketing committees and two Brandywood students to be determined by an essay contest. Brandywood is a kindergarten-through sixth grade school.

After the committee narrows the choice to five finalists by the end of December, the public will be allowed to vote, either at the schools or district office or by mail, during the month of January. The top vote-getter will be the name.

"We want to make the process as fair and as open as possible," Alexis Andrianopoulos, district public information officer, told the board.

Holodick said that, except for its members having the right to vote as members of the public, "at no point does the [school] board have any say in [choosing] the name of the new school."

Holodick said revamping the school bus operation has resulted in a reduction of 267 miles in daily travel and an estimated annualized cost savings of $76,000. That is subject to revision depending on what happens with fuel prices between now and the end of the academic year next June.

With relocated and fewer stops, average travel time on the district's 420 routes has been reduced by six minutes, he said. Since the current year began, he added, "several individual stop adjustments have been made." Some complaints are still being received and investigated, however. Two attenders at the meeting spoke of safety concerns about stops on Naamans and Shipley Roads.

Holodick  said that, through Oct. 20, there have been three "fender-bender accidents" involving buses, compared to 17 during the same time a year ago.

Julie Schmidt, supervisor of accountability, told the board that about 40% of Brandywine's students have taken the new Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System math and reading tests. As a result, she said, Brandywine "is ahead of other districts in the number of students tested." Glitches resulted in a three-week delay in starting the computer-administered testing, which is to be completed by Nov. 19. There will be additional rounds of testing at mid-year and at year's end.

Preliminary results indicate "a 10% to 30% decrease in student proficiency can be expected," according to Schmidt. She added, however, that these tests are intended to determine where students perform at the beginning of the year and that the key results, measuring progress, will be received at the end of year.

Although she said DelDOE is discouraging comparing results under the new system with those obtained under the former state assessment tests, the data to be received will include information on how a given student would have performed under the former system. Acknowledging that would amount to something of a comparison she said she doesn't think that information "will be shared with the students or their parents."

Robert Colnes, senior program analyst with Nemours Health & Prevention Services, presented the district with an award for its nutrition program, which he said was the only one in the state to merit an award. "You get not just a plaque [but also] a banner [for] taking fried potato chips away and giving [students] healthy potatoes," he said.

Kim Matthews, chair of the district P.T.A. Council, told the board that Concord High has shut down its P.T.A. in favor of an unaffiliated "Concord Raiders Nation" organization and that Brandywine High's P.T.A. is inactive as the result of inability to obtain volunteer officers.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: Brandywine will realign its school bus routes

Access the Brandywine School District website.

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