Principals seek stricter cell-phone policy

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A high school principal made a heart-felt plea to the school board's policy committee last week for stricter regulation of "personal communication devices" at school.

All the high school principals had been invited to the policy committee's meeting Thursday night, but only Larry Miller from Forrest School was able to attend.

"The basic problem is violation of test security. There are tests every week and we're catching kids texting all the time," said Miller. He added that he knew of at least three instances on state-wide tests where security had been violated by a student bringing a cell phone into the testing room.

"We're having a lot of problems with harassment and bullying," added Miller. "The only way to control it is cut it (cell phone use) out all together."

"And it's moving down to elementary school," contributed supervisor of K-6 instruction Becky Hill.

Miller told the committee that the majority of principals want a cell phone policy with "more teeth."

"We support confiscation for two weeks," he said.

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.

At the fifth offense, the student may be placed in alternative school at the discretion of the director of schools.

Miller said he and the other principals would like to see the phone taken away for two weeks for the first offense, four weeks for the second offense, and the rest of the school year for the third offense.

"That would have more bite to it," Miller said. "Parents don't understand the effect cell phones are having at school."

The school board's policy committee discussed the cell phone policy at length last winter. The then-director, Dr. Stan Curtis, recommended the same strict policy that Miller mentioned, stating that this was already in force in Maury County schools, where the policy is, "students shall not possess any personal communication device... inside a school building."

At the April 2009 school board meeting, the policy committee asked the full board to approve a cell phone policy like Maury County's, but there was opposition from several board members, and the motion failed to pass: only Todd Tietgens, Ann Tears, and Randy Perryman voted in favor.

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

A Maury County parent was "extremely upset" and went to court over the confiscation of her daughter's phone, but the judge upheld the school system's policy.

"It's just a way of life now," said board member Curt Denton, referring to the fact that everyone seems to use a cell phone. Many families, including Denton's, don't have a land line any more, just a cell phone for each member.

Committee chairwoman Ann Tears said they would put discussion of the cell-phone policy back on the agenda for the next policy committee meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25.