The 2014-2015 school year ushers in Phase Two of the PowerUp program and yet another round of laptops doled out to HISD schools. By next year, the vast majority of the 45,000 students enrolled in 44 HISD high schools will have a PowerUp laptop.
Of course, it didn’t take long for the rumor mill to get up and running, so I fact-checked the most common rumors.
MYTH 1: Surveillance software and internet filters are installed inside each PowerUp device.
HISD’s website states, rather directly, that there will be internet filters inside each device. The district has refrained from publishing exact information on the surveillance software, presumably to keep students from bypassing it — but these excerpts confirm our suspicions.
Administrators have the capability to remotely view student computers. Users must not have an expectation of privacy on any information stored on, accessed from, or used with a District-provided device. The device belongs to Houston ISD, and appropriate district and school officials may monitor a computer or access its contents at any time.
So, they’re monitoring you — and while they’re probably not doing so actively, the district do have software in place to record and view student activities on PowerUp computers if need be. It’s kind of concerning, but really, I have other computers I can use at home instead of the PowerUp one. The bottom line is this — save the porn for your home computer, kid.
MYTH 2: Laptops are not optional.
This one is just plain wrong. Stated in the PowerUp Program FAQ:
Yes, there is an option to opt out of the 1:1 initiative. However, HISD believes that your child will benefit tremendously from having a device to assist them in achieving at high levels and the district encourages all students to participate. Please contact your principal if you have additional questions.
Guess you didn’t have to pay the $25, in loose change (I still can’t believe you did that) or otherwise.
MYTH 3: The wifi at school will become restricted solely to desktops and PowerUp laptops, and will reject connections from smartphones and personal laptops.
I don’t think HISD was expecting this rumor — I guess it was a pretty crazy one. But students from Bellaire were nice enough to answer any questions I had about PowerUp — kudos to them for any information you glean here.
At Bellaire, the wifi has been split into three separate networks. “HISD-secure” continues to connect all of the old infrastructure — desktops, iPads, the laptop carts, etc. Every PowerUp laptop connects automatically to “HISD-student,” and “HISD-guest” picks up what’s left over, including your smartphones and personal laptops. But this makes it sound like the networks are radically different; they’re really not. The students I talked to did not notice any difference between the three networks, and since students can use each of these networks, internet filtration remains the same.
However, what happens at Bellaire may not necessarily happen at Carnegie, and that’s why there’s a degree of uncertainty with this myth. Still, I see no mention of this anywhere on the HISD website, and the Bellaire kids regarded this question with some incredulity, so I think it’s safe to say that this rumor is just a rumor.
(MYTH PARTIALLY BUSTED)
MYTH 4: An antitheft is installed within the laptop that can track its location.
This rumor was pretty easy to confirm. The PowerUp laptops actually have the infamous Lojack installed on it! Originally designed for stolen vehicles, Lojack can detect when stolen vehicles are being used, report their location, and even disable them remotely — and I suspect it will do the exact same thing with stolen PowerUp laptops.
WHAT? NOT ALL THE THINGS I’M HEARING ABOUT THE POWERUP PROGRAM ARE INDISPUTABLY TRUE? INCONCEIVABLE.