School board rejects cell-phone policy

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The full school board refused for a second time to pass a new policy on punishments for students caught using cell phones at school, starting with two weeks' confiscation for the first use of the phone during school hours.

"I think this is one of the dumbest things I have seen in my life," exclaimed board member Mark Wilkerson. "If I'm paying for my kid's phone and it gets lost or damaged and no one's responsible, I'm going to raise Cain.

"With everything that goes on, my wife wants to make sure there's some type of contact with my kid. The parents are still going to be paying. This is going way too far - we're going to have some parents extremely upset."

"We've talked with legal and we can do it," said Ann Tears, who is chairwoman of both the school board and its policy committee. "As long as the parents are informed and the students are given due process, its fine. It's not saying that they can't have them (cell phones) - just that they can't use them during school."

Dr. Stan Curtis, director of schools, had told the committee that this was Maury County school system's policy on cell phones, and, further, that the Marshall County principals were in favor of it, and so was he.

"I'm hearing from schools that they're really having trouble; it's hard to get kids to pay attention and principals have called our current policy 'a joke'," Tears told her committee at an earlier meeting.

"Test security is a major issue," Curtis informed the policy committee, adding that he was also worried about texting and about pictures being taken and circulated without the subject's knowledge.

"It might as well be a dictatorship," said Wilkerson. "If I get calls on this, I'm going to direct them to everyone who votes for this policy."

A loud, confused chorus of "ayes" and "nays" greeted the call for a vote on the motion to adopt the new policy, so a roll-call vote was demanded.

Board members Mike Keny, Wilkerson, Curt Denton, Kristen Gold, and Craig Michael voted against the motion, while Todd Tietgens, Tears, and Randy Perryman supported it. Therefore, the motion failed by five votes to three (board member Dee Dee Owens was absent from the meeting).

The committee has been working on the cell phone policy for months, and first tried to get the full board to pass the new policy at the February meeting. After some heated discussion on that occasion, it was returned to the committee for further study. They voted five to zero at their last meeting to recommended adoption of a punishment of two weeks' confiscation of the phone for the first infraction; four weeks for the second; and the remainder of the semester for the third, with cell phone use to be specifically allowed on school buses. Policy committee members are Tears, Owens, Perryman, Tietgens, and Denton.

In the absence of a new cell phone policy, apparently the present one will continue into the next school year. That policy specifies "students shall not use any personal communication device including, but not limited to, cellular phones, electronic pagers or beepers on school property during regular school hours. Students shall not use such devices on school buses to and from school on regular school days. If such a device is in the possession of a student it must be turned off and secured by the student. Such devices are never to be in view during the regular school day or on school buses to and from school. ...Any person who discovers a student in violation of this policy shall report the violation to the principal. The device will be confiscated and the parent/guardian notified that they should pick up the device at the school office as soon as possible. Students who are in violation of this policy are subject to the following disciplinary actions. 1st offense: One Day In-School Suspension; 2nd offense: Three Days In-School Suspension; 3rd offense: Two Days Suspension from School; 4th offense: Five Days Suspension from School; 5th offense: Alternative Placement out of the home school as determined by the Director of Schools."

In other committee reports to the full board, on behalf of the buildings and maintenance committee, Michael reported that they needed to set a date to review the Siemens' energy report, and also to look at proposed projects with maintenance supervisor Sheldon Davis. He also said they would be having a general discussion with the county commission on their maintenance requirements to see how feasible it would be for the school maintenance department to provide maintenance to the county buildings.

"There's a lot of confusion," said Michael. "It should be the director's decision."

"We want to be efficient, but we also want to help our community," agreed Curtis.