Cell phones given new duty by school district | ParkRecord.com

Cell phones given new duty by school district

Jason Strykowski, of the Record staff

Students are known to spend much of their time sending and receiving text messages. Now they will actually have a substantial reason to pay attention to them.

Beginning this fall, the Park City School District will institute a new system of contacting students and parents. High-priority messages will be sent via cell phones as text messages. Any student or parent with a text-enabled phone could potentially receive a message only minutes following a district decision.

Ray Timothy, district superintendent, decided to try the new system after a snowy winter led to some school closures. Although the district routinely updates its Web site, Timothy does not feel comfortable with the site’s ability to keep parents and students updated in a timely fashion. Phone trees, the time-honored system of distributing important messages, are slow as well.

Marty and Beau Ogburn of RhinoText and Five-3 Mobile Marketing approached the district to institute their system months ago. Park City consequently became the first local school district to deploy text-messaging communication. Ultimately, RhinoText hopes to bring its technology to every school district in the state.

The text-message alert system is a keyword-activated, web-based technology that will allow Timothy, or anyone else given proper credentials, to send messages to thousands of phones in only a few minutes. As long as that person has access to the Web, he or she can access a list of text clients from anywhere in the world. The messages can be sent to any cell phone capable of receiving texts.

Basic text-messaging charges will apply for those without unlimited text plans. With most rates per message costing several cents, the cost to the recipient should be minimal. It’s well worth it, said Timothy, for parents and students to become immediately aware of any changes within the district. The district must also pay several cents per message, so a large-scale message could cost the district hundreds, but not thousands, of dollars.

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Also of concern: most schools in the district have instituted cell phone control policies and a district-wide system of text-driven notification on cell phones could run contrary to those policies. But most messages will also be designed for parents and students can still retrieve their messages after class.

Aside from school closures due to weather, the text messages will also allow the district to keep parents immediately informed of any possibly dangerous situations. Some concern was raised earlier this year that school officials did not communicate effectively with parents regarding a threatening situation at Treasure Mountain International School; this method of sending information could alleviate that problem.

Those interested in this new program can enroll during school registration in mid-August by signing up with their names and phone number. Activation is also available now through text messaging. To activate the service, simply text PCSD to 41513. The service may also be deactivated by texting STOP to the same number. For more information on the text messaging service, call RhinoText at (888) 558-5353.

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