Boulder Valley School District has cut off middle school students’ access to social media, at least if they’re using the school district’s Wi-Fi.
As of Wednesday, the district blocked Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest at middle schools. In the fall, the district also blocked middle school access to gaming sites.
“We’ve heard concerns that social media sites might be creating a distraction for learning,” said Randy Barber, district spokesman. “We’re always trying to decide the best way to keep students safe.”
Parents concerned that students are accessing inappropriate content online at school since last school year have lobbied the school board to tighten controls. Other concerns have centered on the overall amount of technology use.
In August, the school board voted to approve an updated technology policy for employees, but postpone a vote on the student policy.
The board agreed to wait to make student policy changes until after getting feedback from parents through a planned technology survey, which is still being developed and is expected to be given this school year.
Cell phone use, especially at the middle school level, has been an ongoing concern for parents.
Boulder Valley’s student handbook says cellphones must be turned off in class and at school events, unless school administrators allow their use. In some schools, the decision is left up to individual teachers.
Barber said the district will continue to evaluate it’s decision to block social media, including looking at classroom management software being piloted at some schools.
The software could allow educators to prevent students from accessing social media at inappropriate times, without blocking it all together.
“We’re really trying to have a thoughtful, reasonable approach,” Barber said.
For the social media decision, one concern was that many middle school students aren’t 13, the age guideline used by most social media sites.
“Parents can make decisions on access,” he said. “When you allow it on the school district’s infrastructure, you’re responsible for it.”
Previously, district officials said principals wanted to keep social media access open at middle schools because blocking it could push more students to try to access them on their phones through hot spots.
Parents who lobbied the district to extend the block on social media from elementary schools to middle schools cited both the potential for distractions and the age limits.
Su Brodsky, who has two children at Boulder’s Casey Middle School, said Snapchat and Instagram both can be major distractions for students.
“A lot of the kids use Snapchat to talk to each other and to make plans for after school,” she said. “What ends up happening is that during class time they are all chatting away and are constantly distracted from their class work.”
She described it as the modern-day equivalent of passing notes, but amplified by the ease of the technology and constant message notifications.
“Middle schoolers who are in the midst of puberty are horrible at being able to ignore those things,” she said. “They get distracted and don’t concentrate. It’s like giving candy to preschool kids and asking them not to eat it.”