Schools' cell-phone policy to get tougher

Friday, March 20, 2009

More severe punishments for students using cell phones at school, starting in August, is to be the policy committee's recommendation at the school board meeting in April.

In another round of discussions during the policy committee meeting Tuesday, chairwoman Ann Tears announced that the City of Lewisburg would not allow the schools to use jamming and blocking devices as committee member Curt Denton had suggested.

"What do the principals want?" asked committee member Todd Tietgens.

"The one I talked to was all for confiscation," answered Tears. She reported that 130 phones have been taken up at Marshall County High School so far this year.

The current policy states that if a student is caught using their phone at school, the phone will be confiscated, and must be picked up by the parent as soon as possible, and the student gets a suspension, starting with a one-day in-school suspension for the first offence, and escalating to a five-day suspension from school for the fourth offense.

"The principals were all in favor of confiscation," said Stan Curtis, director of schools.

"What's your recommendation?" Tietgens asked Curtis.

"Thank you for asking!" Curtis exclaimed. "For the first offence: two weeks' confiscation of the phone. It's like a dress code - it's going to be controversial at first. My concern is texting, and people taking pictures. Test security is also a major issue. A teacher can lose their license if there is a phone in the testing room."

"It may be a problem with parents, but if we let them know, it should be OK," said Tears. She had consulted with the Tennessee School Boards Association, and the legal representative had told her that confiscation was feasible, as long as parents had been notified ahead of time, in writing, that this was the policy, and that due process was afforded to the students. She was told it was also important that teachers not be allowed to browse the confiscated phone, but must turn it over to the principal who would be responsible for storing it in a secure place.

"My recommendation - if the policy is approved - is to implement it in August," Curtis said.

"You could announce it through the Student Handbook and save sending a special letter to the parents," committee member Randy Perryman said.

"I'd like an exemption," said Denton. "There's no reason not to have a phone on the school bus. It's not a learning environment, and it's not a distraction to the driver. Phones keep the kids quiet because they're texting."

"It would have to be written specifically," Curtis said. "All the other policies apply to the buses. We need to give some leeway to bus drivers to allow use of phones unless they interfere with the safe operation of the bus. School principals are still responsible for what goes on on the buses; we don't want to get into bus drivers taking phones."

The committee voted unanimously to recommend their revised cell phone policy to the full board.

Other policies discussed by the committee included expenses and reimbursement; absences and make-up work; student complaints and grievances; corporal punishment; students' records; dress code; and overtime pay for support personnel.