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To Skype or not to Skype?
MUSD deciding whether to lock down option
A Lincoln School student works with a Panasonic 3E tablet. - photo by HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo

The summer break is giving Manteca Unified time to fine tune the $30 million Going Digital initiative as well as to address concerns brought up by parents and staff.

One of those concerns is whether students should be able to use their Panasonic 3E devices to send instant messages to classmates via Skype. Another involves whether to purchase cases for the tablet devices to reduce breakage.

Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer said a “handful of parents” have expressed concern about their children being able to use Skype on the school-issued devices.

Messer said the district has been in contact with principals and teachers to assess the situation.

He noted that on an average 65,000 Skype instant messages are sent during the school day.

Messer added the overwhelmingly majority of the messages involve school work.

He understands that the concern centers on students using the device to Skype when they are away from school at home or elsewhere.

Messer said the best solution may be to educate parents in how they can control what a student can use the device for away from school given the fact Skype has emerged as an effective communication tool for doing school work in the classroom.

He added that the use of Skype has drastically reduced the unauthorized use of cell phones at school which in turn has improved the learning environment.

Cases may be purchased

for some of the devices

A look at device breakage so far shows that it is below expected levels and that most problems are covered by warranty. Screens are the No. 1 thing that gets broken.

Since the Panasonic 3E is not a retail device companies that produce cases don’t have any available that will work. The district, however, is working with several companies that are willing to manufacture special cases if there is a minimum of 5,000 ordered.

Before that happens, the district will compare the cost of repairing or replacing devices to the cost of the cases to determine which way is more financially advantageous to Manteca Unified. They have also made it clear to Panasonic that any updates to the hardware can’t change the physical shape of the Panasonic 3E devices as it would render a case solution moot.

The biggest breakage is occurring in the seventh, eighth and ninth grade levels. Most of the problems relate to the devices being placed into backpacks with heavy textbooks.

“No one when they were designing the device gave much thought to that (backpacks),” Messer said.

The No.1 at home reason for breakage includes students stepping on them as they get out of bed, sitting on them or knocking them from a point  higher than a typical student desk onto a tile floor.