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Child's Play? Popular wisdom has it that today's children are more computer-savvy than adults. That assumption is being tested at Center Elementary School in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, where a young expert is about to take on the dreaded "Y2K" computer bug.

The district has hired Brian Hug, a 5th grader at the 457-student school, to install software on equipment in the school's computer lab to make sure it's protected against any havoc that could ensue if computers are unable to recognize the year 2000 come January 1. The district will pay the 11-year-old the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, for an average of two to five hours a week.

But while some see this as an opportunity for Brian to broaden his interests in computers, others have expressed concern. "I don't think solving the Y2K problem is child's play," says Amy Feran, a school board member who opposes the boy's hiring. "We've never hired a child, and I believe that it would violate child-labor laws to do so." What's more, the manufacturer of the school's computers has a technician to make sure that the computers are in compliance with Y2K standards-the same job that Brian was hired for, she says.

"It is unusual," acknowledges superintendent Phil Price. But, he adds, the boy's talent and interest stood out to teachers, who recommended that he be given more responsibility in the computer lab.

Bug Be Gone: Meanwhile, the Department of Education has met the federal government's March 31 deadline for preparations for the Y2K computer bug-presumably without help from students.

Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Marshall Smith says all of the department's 175 data systems have been renovated, independently validated, and verified. That includes the 14 systems that the department deems critical to its mission-including the $50 billion student loan program.

In February, the department got an A-minus grade on its Y2K preparations from a House subcommittee. Now, the White House Office of Management and Budget says the department is one of those best prepared for the new millennium.

--Marnie Roberts and Andrew Trotter

Vol. 10, Issue 8, Page 14

Published in Print: May 1, 1999, as Tech Talk
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