On Monday, January 6th, 2017, SLVHS students were surprised to find out that they could no longer access the school-wide wifi on their cell phones. Many students found that their phones could connect to the server, but would not open most apps, or found that their phones did not connect at all. Students then received an alert on their phone telling them that the administrator of the network has kept them from accessing it.
Practically immediately, students were abuzz with frustration with the new software which occurred due to system problems that caused laptops to run slow or for the connection to be lost completely. Walking down the halls in the midst of a downpour during school, students were not chattering about the rain or last week’s winter formal– but instead the sudden change in the school’s wifi policy.
Instances of the WiFi completely shutting down or slowing to a snail’s pace without a moment’s notice have frustrated students and teachers alike for the entirety of the past school year.
These problems occurred thanks to downloads of large files, namely videos and large software programs, that overwhelmed the bandwidth of the WiFi network and slowed the entire school’s connection. To hopefully halt these problems, the SLV administration has changed the WiFi system several times throughout the school year, but a ban on cell phone usage of the network has not occurred until now.
Jeff Kitts, of the SLVUSD IT department, found that the access points in which students access WiFi, “can only handle about 30 clients without serious performance problems. When 30 or so students are on laptops in a classroom, the additional smartphone activity can make the wifi too slow for the classroom lesson.” Kitts also estimated that around 80% of students have smartphones at SLVHS.
The new system that SLV now runs on is only accessible through a laptop. The student server, “HS”, has blocked off any ability for students to use iPads, iPods, and their smartphones on the network. The staff WiFi was not altered, and some students quickly found out the passwords for the network before it was promptly changed.
Overwhelmingly, students have responded with frustration and confusion. Only after one day of the change, a Change.org petition was created in support of a lift of the ban, with 50 signatures in the first two hours it was posted.
Robert Jeffery, a senior at SLV, lamented that, “There are so many simple tasks that have become an inconvenience because we no longer have access to the WiFi. Because I have an iPod and not a smart phone, I quite honestly cannot do anything productive without a computer at hand.” Jeffery also felt that the ban has unfairly targeted some students as “it gives privilege to those who can afford data and takes away from those who need mobile devices for legitimate reasons.”
Even SLVHS alumni felt that the ban was unfair to students and were passionate about the issue. Elise Whisler, who now attends Wagner College in New York, felt that the issue related strongly to elitist issues of technology availability discussed in one of her classes. “If wifi is inaccesible, phone usage is limited to the students that can afford data- an elitist policy. I can access far more information from a phone [than a textbook], but I cannot pay for any of that if I cannot afford the data plan. Making it inaccessible is contrary to the philosophy of public schools the second a teacher asks you to use your phone.” Whisler felt that if the goal of public schools is to make education accessible to all students, then why is the school restricting potential educational opportunities to those who can afford a data bill?
Students felt the effects of the ban no more than a day after its implementation, on Tuesday, January 7th, when the school was cleared out early because of a rainstorm. Students were requested to show proof of parental permission to leave campus through a text or phone call. However, some students, like Jeffery, who usually communicate with their parents using WiFi were confused on how to get home safely without being able to use the school WiFi on their devices.
Another SLV student, Kassidy Gambelin, pointed out that if administration wanted to cease certain activities on student’s cell phones, they could have enacted a ban on certain websites– like the SLV Middle School already does. Gambelin was also frustrated with the ban because, “some classes ask that we use our phones for things like Quizlet live, Kahoot, voice recordings on Schoology and the like.” Gambelin felt that the change in the system was more detrimental to student success than it is worth, since the SLVHS community relies so highly on technology in the classroom, as evident in the school wide Schoology usage and the BYOD (bring your own device) policy.
Many students pointed out that being able to use your phone in class just made everything a lot more simple. Whether it be Poetzinger asking his AP Literature class to Google the meaning of a word during a lecture, or students using Quizlet to
quiz each other on chemical formulas in X’s class, SLVHS students overwhelmingly felt that the classroom relies too heavily on technology for it to be taken away. Students also felt that using your phones is just a generally easier way to go about using technology in the classroom, due to phones being easier to access at a moment’s notice.
Some classes, namely, the Graphic Design class, found that the change in the system kept them from going about the usual activities. “Instead of doing our work,” Abby Halper, a senior, said, “we lost the whole class trying to figure out why the internet wasn’t working.”
However, some students did feel that the ban was unfairly critiqued by their fellow classmates. Aaron McKay said that, “I do believe that it is the best fix. [Administration] has shown that they are willing to pull the WiFi because some students are not being responsible and using it all up. It is the right idea, but thus far has had a failed execution.”
With such far-reaching implementations of technology into the classroom in such early stages in the SLV community, it is inevitable that the school will run into some problems along the way. However, the backlash against the changes in internet policy shows that the community is far from reaching a compromise that will keep both SLVHS students and administrators happy.
By Serena Mendoza