What started off as an innocent share on the BASICS (Benefiting All Students in Cranston Schools) Facebook page by a parent trying to help a teacher get eight Chromebooks for her classroom, has raised a major problem for Cranston Public Schools administration.
To date, going back to 2007, Cranston schools have had 167 projects funded by the donorschoose.org web site, totaling $95,528.
Since then, the requests have ranged from rusty basketball rims in an elementary cafetorium for $172. In 2015, one elementary teacher received $10,783 for nine chromebooks, a cart and two Apple iPad airs. And, a middle school teacher has asked for simple classroom basics such as Purell, tissues, wipes, pencils, crayons, folders and markers.
According to Michele Simpson, the Executive Director of Pupil Personnel Services for the school district, they have spoken directly to principals and teachers involved.
“We are continuing to look into each case on the website and contacting the teachers involved. The district is also reviewing the process of donations, from websites such as donorschoose.org, etc.,” she said.
One of the main issues with the website, is the fact that teachers are posting pictures of students in their classrooms without proper permission from parents/guardians.
While there are permission forms/releases signed in the beginning of the school year, those permission slips that parents sign are for school based media events, Simpson acknowledged.
Simpson said that while they cannot ask teachers to not use the web site, they could tell them not to use pictures of the students. They are not representing Cranston Public Schools.
The district is now going through all 167 funded projects and notifying families if their child has been photographed.
Most disturbing to Dannelle Littleton, Chairperson of SEAC (Special Education Advisory Committee) is that teachers are specifically identifying special education students in their requests.
“The main functions of SEAC are to identify any unmet needs of students enrolled in special education and to advocate for students enrolled in special education. When we came across a public website that had teachers in our district asking for assistive technology that their special education students needed in order to have an equal education, I alarmed. I was even more alarmed to find that many of these posts from teachers included pictures of students in their special education classrooms. This is a violation of their privacy rights,” she said.
Littleton is frustrated by the whole situation.
“I am very disappointed that the teachers in our district disregarded the privacy rights of our students. This is the third time that SEAC has had to bring privacy violations to the attention of district administration,” she said.
Adding that FERPA and confidentiality is a main topic and focus at many SEAC meetings where school and district administrators are present.
Simpson echoed Littleton’s concerns.
“There has been a confidentiality breach. We are going through every request funded and active. They need to follow our process within the district,” she said.
According to Assistant Superintendent, Norma Cole, “the sky is virtually the limit when it comes to special education needs”
Simpson said there is money in the district, in grants for these things. She doesn’t understand why they didn’t come to her first.
“We understand that the teachers are trying to expand on classroom necessities, and looking for the nice to haves, but there is a protocol to be followed,” said Cole.
The other issue is the location of all the technology/supplies/materials that have been sent to the district over the past 10 years.
The teachers have received a total of 33 Chromebooks and 23 iPads through the web site.
Edgewood Highland elementary school has been funded the most with $16,684 in donations, while Cranston East has had the most projects funded with $14,749 worth of technology/supplies/materials.
The bigger questions with these donations are who actually owns the equipment/technology. If a teacher generates the project and receives the supplies, and then leaves the district at some point, are they taking the technology/supplies with them?
The process of receiving equipment is to go through the business office, have the equipment registered, get a serial number, tag it as district property and upload the necessary software.
Most of the donorschoose equipment has not gone through this process.
“We need to find every piece of equipment,” said Simpson.