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Student cellphones eyed as resource

CHELMSFORD -- When threats arise in schools, fear collides with technology.

It happened at Chelmsford High School last Monday, when parents clogged the phone lines inquiring about a security lockdown, resulting from a report of a suspicious man in the building. By midweek, officials had determined that the man was an authorized maintenance worker.

''People know on the outside as soon as it's happening," said principal W. Allen Thomas Jr. ''Kids use text messaging from their cellphones. It's a real problem for security, because we're getting calls before we know the situation sometimes.

With cellphones so prevalent, the school district's technology guru, Bruce Forster, is looking for ways to make cellphones a resource during crises instead of a security breach.

''With a high school of 1,800 kids," he said, ''you can safely assume that there's 1,000 phones in this school at any given time. They're so cheap and parents find them reassuring. . . . Assuming there's 1,000 phones, you have a thousand dial tones. . . . That's a huge resource."

Foster, who is the district's executive director of technology, said he wants to use some of the students' phones to field incoming calls and to train certain students what to say to calm frantic parents.

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