Phone apps causing disruption in schools

schoolsNew Smartphone applications are being developed every day, and many of them are helping teenagers keep secrets from their parents.

Even technologically savvy parents may have a hard time keeping up with the latest app trends circulating around high schools — and the moment you figure it out, students have moved on to the next one. 

Swain County High School has experienced some issues recently with students using an app called After School. The application verifies a user’s school location by connecting to their personal Facebook page. If a user doesn’t have a valid school associated with his or her Facebook page, they aren’t able to log in to the app, which makes it difficult for administrators or parents to see what was being posted. 

“It creates a forum for each school,” said Toby Burrell, public information officer for Swain County Schools. “The kicker for us is that the app itself is designed to keep whatever you post anonymous — it gives kids leeway to post what they want without being accountable.”

As with any social media or phone application that allows anonymous posting, it can lead to name-calling, cyberbullying and sexually explicit posts about other students. Even if students are not using the app during school hours, it can still cause a disruption at school.

Swain High Principal Mark Sale is trying to take a more proactive approach to the ongoing issue. When After School started creating a problem at Swain High, he held an assembly to educate students before it got out of hand. 

“The staff of Swain County High School is continually concerned about the safety and welfare of our students. We recently learned of our students’ involvement with a free app, After School,” Sale said. “While we respect the rights of social apps like After School, we urge our students, parents and community members to use these social apps with great care. The apps cannot become a platform for hate or harassing or venomous messages, especially directed at students.”

Chris Baldwin, Macon County Schools superintendent, said he hasn’t been made aware of any issues pertaining to cyberbullying at any of his schools in the last few months.  

“We have dealt with these issues in the past on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “We do work closely with parents and law enforcement when they do occur, and I suspect that these relationships do help to reduce the occurrence of cyberbullying.”

Educating students at home and at school about the wrong and right way to use technology is sometimes the only thing parents and teachers can do. 

Bill Nolte, associate superintendent for Haywood County Schools, said he’s seen similar issues at the high schools and middle schools as more students have access to smartphones.  

“Apps and social media will continue to change and some kids will continue to send lewd or hurtful messages,” he said. “When we have legal authority to do something about it we do, but we don’t have that authority unless they are sending them at school or when it becomes so disruptive that it impacts the school.”

Nolte said Haywood County Schools has done some training for students and teachers about the dangers of “sexting” and other dangerous Internet usage in the past. However, he said there is no way teachers can constantly monitor all of their students’ phone use. He said parents, churches and other organizations should also help teach children to use social media appropriately. 

“We all need to tell kids they need to be above it, that they shouldn’t hide behind a digital platform to be rude and condescending to others,” Nolte said. “We should be teaching them that social media is not a place to misbehave anymore than they would be allowed to at home.”

Swain County Schools is asking parents to keep a watchful eye on the apps being used by their children. Now that administrators know how to access After School, students will likely find another app to use. 

Administrators are also aware of an app called Calculator. Parents wouldn’t think twice about it being on their child’s phone because it does function as a calculator, but it also allows teens to hide photos they might not want their parents to see. 

Another app called Poof was created for the sole purpose of allowing users to hide other apps on their phone from plain sight. If a parent sees the Poof app on their child’s phone, it should be an instant red flag. 

Burrell urges parents to educate themselves on what social media and apps their children are using and talk to them if they are misusing it. If a parent is paying for their children’s phone, then they have every right to keep a record of their passwords for monitoring purposes. 

High schools do allow students to have their cell phones at school as long as they aren’t a distraction during class. He doesn’t want to see a ban on cellphones just because a few people are misusing them.

“Most use the devices responsibly. I’m not one for banning something that’s used properly most of the time just because a few use improperly,” he said. 

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