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Shawnee Mission parents express concerns about technology, prompting task force

SHAWNEE, Kan. -- A debate over iPads is heating up in one metro school district. Concerns from parents prompted Shawnee Mission Schools to create a "digital learning task force" a few months ago.

Almost everywhere you look, you can spot kids using tablets. Shawnee Mission Schools made such technology universal for k-12 students five years ago, and it has had its perks.

"If they are home sick from school, they're able to keep up with their homework and email their teachers to get information they would've missed otherwise," parent Erica Frans said.

While there's plenty of opportunity for learning with district-issued iPads and computers, some parents have concerns about how it's actually being used in schools.

"This is pretty much an experiment. There's so much we don't know," parent Gretchen Shanahan said.

Experts say 1:1 initiatives are promising, but districts across the country are seeing the challenges it brings, especially as more research is coming out about the effects of too much screen time at an early age.

"You have to make sure it's very purposeful, that you're using the technology in ways that's really going to enhance what they're learning instead of technology for technology sake,"  said Dr. Amy Wolf, Park University associate professor of education.

Two moms shared what they feel is inappropriate content students have accessed on their school-issued iPads. It's part of the reason they, and others, asked Shawnee Mission Schools to form a tech task force last fall to study how to improve 1:1 to make sure it's safe and effective.

"The school district says it participates in data-driven decision making and we need that, quantitative and qualitative data to understand how these devices are  helping benefit our children or harming them," Frans said.

Experts said every district needs clear goals for its technology use and to regularly check results.

"What did you set out to do?  And are you doing that?" Wolf said.

The Shawnee Mission School District released the following statement to FOX4:

"Participants in the Digital Learning Task Force decided to communicate as one voice about the outcomes of the group, once they are achieved. As the group is still engaged in that work, it would not be appropriate to respond to individual task force members who are going outside of what they agreed to."

The task force meets for the final time in late May and will give recommendations to the superintendent this summer.

The parents speaking out now just hope the district will take their concerns seriously and ultimately pioneer policy on healthy device use.

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