On the first day of a strict policy banning students at St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic School from using social networking Web sites, administrators and parents were online ferreting out those who had yet to comply.
"You get to know their code names," Judy Martinek, the school's office manager, said Friday.
Sister Margaret Van Velzen, principal of the Bloomfield Hills school, said the policy took effect Friday in response to concerns about students posting "nasty things on the Internet," and as an attempt to keep the children safe.
Van Velzen said Friday she does not know of any other school with such a policy, nor had she received complaints about it.
"I have not had one parent who is opposed to this," she said.
Still, as technology becomes more accessible, St. Hugo's new policy raises questions for educators. How, for example, will schools control Internet access when free wireless access becomes available through all of Oakland County in 2008? Or, as prices drop for handheld phones that connect to the Web and more students get them, what then?
"There are so many changes in technology," said Marcia Wilkinson, director of community relations for the Birmingham public schools. "A lot of issues are coming up that people were not dealing with even a year ago."
Social networking sites, such as MySpace, market themselves as places in cyberspace for people to meet and communicate, often connecting using clever aliases. But, law enforcement officials say, children who join these sites may be putting themselves in harm's way - especially from sexual predators.
St. Hugo, which runs from kindergarten through eighth grade, also enacted the policy because it wanted to eliminate unhealthy competition among young students who were comparing the number of people in their network, Van Velzen said. One student, she said, bragged of linking with as many as 800 others.
The school's policy also raises the question: How much control can a school exert beyond the classroom?
Officials in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne County public schools - and University Liggett School, a private pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school in Grosse Pointe Woods - said they leave it up to parents to decide whether students can use MySpace, or other similar sites, at home.
"Schools have to be responsible for students when they're at school, but with the blurring of the lines of virtual and real-world education, where are the lines?" said Linda Wacky, director of communications for the Michigan Association of School Administrators in Lansing. Melodye Bush, a researcher with the Education Commission of the States, said she has never heard of another school enacting such a policy and has doubts about whether it is constitutional. The commission is a Denver-based think-tank that tracks education trends nationwide.
St. Hugo has had a policy prohibiting its 773 students from posting offensive or inappropriate comments and pictures on the Web for years, Van Velzen said. But the new policy went a step further by banning students from using MySpace and other similar sites all together. Under the policy, students who refuse to delete their accounts will be suspended.
"People know the difference between using social networking for a good reason and for things that would be hurtful," Van Velzen said.
Under MySpace rules, children 14 years and younger should not have a presence on the site anyway, but, Van Velzen said, the company does not adequately enforce that, and many students simply lie about their age. St. Hugo students with sites who were caught Friday were told to dismantle them.
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BY FRANK WITSIL, DET. FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER