BARNEGAT, NJ – Barnegat school board candidates may be in for some steep competition in a few years. At the most recent Board of Education meeting, one Barnegat High School student could barely wait for the start of the public session. Fifteen-year-old Mark Ford’s impassioned plea regarding better student internet access was campaign worthy.
Ford first introduced himself as an aspiring actor and dedicated ambassador from the high school. “In the 2018-2019 school year, the wi-fi and internet systems across the district mysteriously deteriorated,” he said.
According to Ford, access in the high school has allegedly been disabled entirely. “These schools became ‘no-man’s lands,’” he continued. “No calls from parents could, or families go in or out. We couldn’t ask for food, for missing papers, for medicine, or for help.”
However, it wasn’t just the lack of accessibility to the outside world that concerned Ford. “Learning tools such as Quizlet and Google Classroom were disabled along with the wi-fi,” shared Ford. “This prevented students from completing certain assignments, without the use of a desktop or a Chromebook, which are difficult to obtain or use for long.”
Ford acknowledged that the purpose of limited internet access was to discourage the use of social media or in-class distraction. However, he suggested it was a bad idea. “The wi-fi shut down is a permanent obstacle to the student body and even some teachers.”
During lunch period, Ford took it upon himself to start a petition. In less than one hour, he received 31 student signatures and four teachers, who all asked for a change.
Engaging the district leaders with a somewhat Shakespearean stance and tone, Ford continued, “I come to you, my lords, on behalf of all your students and employees. Read the conditions of our petition and consider the restoration of a district-wide functional network for our devices.”
However, it didn’t just stop there. Ford said those who signed the petition were willing to “pay any price and confess to anything to make a workplace as efficient and approved of by students and staff.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis commended Ford on taking a leadership role as the student ambassador. Latwis first addressed Ford’s contention that some of the learning tools were disabled. “We’ll be looking into this, as I agree that this isn’t a roadblock we want to have.”
As far as the difficulty in obtaining Chromebook access, part of the district’s strategic plan includes a multi-year rollout of additional Chromebooks in the classroom. Ultimately, the goal is one-to-one access for all students.
“There were valid reasons the high school and middle school turned off the wi-fi access a couple of years ago,” Latwis shared. However, he agreed that Ford’s presentation supported the idea of taking a second look at the limitations.
Board of Education President Scott Sarno thanked Ford for bringing the issues to the school board. “These are valid concerns, and it’s great when students come to the board and administration with things they notice are not up to par in school.”
Sarno acknowledged that even school board members have similar communication issues when they are in meetings in the high school. He assured Ford that the matter would be investigated. “I think you addressing us as ‘lords’ is one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to us,” Sarno admitted.
At next month’s Board of Education meeting, the administration will provide an update concerning investigation of the issue and what can be done about it.
Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.