published Friday, December 20th, 2013

Hamilton County school board still navigating BYOD policy

IN OTHER BUSINESS

East Brainerd Elementary: The school board voted unanimously Thursday evening to approve the low bid for the construction of a new East Brainerd Elementary School. The bid -- submitted by Tri-Con Construction -- was around 10 percent lower than the next-lowest bid and is for $23 million.

The project will go before the County Commission for final approval.

Renaming Middle College: The school board voted unanimously to rename Middle College, a high school on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College, to Hamilton County Collegiate High at Chattanooga State.

The name change is intended to cut down on confusion about the school, which has been confused for a middle school and a part of Chattanooga State. The school is also changing to grades 9-12, which led school officials to go ahead with the change.

Rhonda Thurman said she was a little surprised no one else had questions about the Hamilton County school system's look at a bring your own device policy for students.

So she jumped in.

Her District 1 constituents wonder why they ought to send a personal device -- bought with personal money -- to school with their kids and risk having it lost, stolen or broken.

Because then, "they're out a laptop," she said.

David Testerman, who represents District 8 and is a former principal of Sale Creek High School, said most of the school board members got their questions answered at last Friday's technology committee meeting.

But he does share Thurman's concerns about families being responsible for a costly device taken to school.

As principal in Sale Creek, Testerman said a lot of kids would bring their phones to school and "by the end of the day, it was gone. Or it was left on the bus."

But that's where a group insurance policy for the school system comes in. Parents of kids who take their personal devices to school will be able to buy into a reduced-price insurance program for those devices.

Testerman said it's safe to estimate that insurance will be less than $50 a year, maybe even less. He compared it to annual insurance fees associated with school sports.

And it's the very same insurance parents will have to pay for using a school-owned device, which eased some of Thurman's concerns over whether folks sending devices to schools are getting the unfair end of the stick.

She still isn't crazy about adding more costs to public school families, some of whom "can't even afford lunch."

"We're going to have to do something," she said. "And what's the right something?"

For Testerman, the right something starts with local municipalities giving the school system its due funds.

He said city governments around the county have snubbed the school system, some keeping up to millions of dollars accrued through alcohol and other taxes which could fund the BYOD program.

"That would go a long way toward getting those computers for kids," he said.

He said the school system is "on the verge of having some really tremendous things happen," if it can figure out how everything fits together to bring Hamilton County students into state-of-the-art education practices while keeping costs on families low or even nonexistent.

"I'd say the conversation we're having right now in Hamilton County, you'll find that everywhere," Testerman said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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