(TNS) – The privacy, safety and religious diversity of students were discussed at a recent meeting of the Stamford School Board and members of its student advisory committee.
A recent brawl at a district college allegedly sparked by social media that left a student seriously injured has raised concerns among administrators about student use of cellphones.
This concern could lead to a new district policy, as Stamford Public Schools currently does not have a general rule for cellphone use. Instead, individual schools set their own rules — and even then, enforcement may vary.
“Some teachers you know shouldn’t pull out your phone, and some teachers you know it’s okay if you have your phone on your desk or use it in class,” said student Samantha Samuel. at the Academy of Information Technology. and Engineering, at a Board of Education Student Advisory Council meeting this week.
Board member Becky Hamman said she had worked in districts with a district-wide cellphone policy and seemed supportive of introducing a policy in Stamford.
“I understand that students have rights with cellphones, but when people’s safety is at risk because of cellphones, that’s pretty serious,” she said.
At the end of April, five Cloonan students allegedly attacked another in the school toilets. The child suffered head and knee injuries.
Earlier in the school year, Cloonan students also filmed themselves taking part in a TikTok challenge in which they used their hands to mimic firing a gun, aimed at a camera.
At a community meeting a week ago to discuss the district’s response to the alleged attack in April, administrators spoke about what they said was the role of cellphones and social media in the increase in the level of violence in schools.
Cloonan manager David Tate told parents that if they got their kids to keep their phones at home, “it would help a lot”.
Removing cell phones from students poses privacy concerns, as teachers or administrators could have access to a student’s personal information, including bank account data.
“We’d be happy to jump on the whole cellphone policy as long as it also gets into some sort of privacy discussion,” said Bob Kocienda, the program coordinator for the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council.
Board Chair Jackie Heftman said, “I think there will be a lot of considerations when we look at adopting a (district-wide) mobile phone policy,” she said. “And the first consideration is do we want one at all?”
She suggested that the discussion of a new policy should start with the people inside the schools — administrators, teachers and students.
“We council members are not in schools daily,” she said.
Zoe Goldberg, another AITE student, said she hadn’t noticed a problem with phones at school. In fact, she says, having a phone has come in handy when she needs to email a teacher or message other students at the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council.
“We use them to communicate all the time,” she said.
Also during the student advisory meeting, members briefly discussed prayer at school.
Samuel asked if it would be possible to have prayer rooms inside the schools for students who request them.
Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Amy Beldotti said such requests have arisen in the past, particularly around the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, and the district welcomes students. It’s trickier at the elementary level, however, because younger students can’t be left unsupervised, she said.
She said the district was looking for a way to create spaces for students to pray.
“We are considering codifying this into a policy to ensure that we respect all religions without imposing anyone’s religious beliefs or prayer practices on anyone else,” she said.
Another challenge, she said, is that some students prefer not to be in the cafeteria when fasting for religious reasons.
“Sometimes we have limited space in our buildings, but we can always find a small, quiet place to accommodate student religious practices,” Beldotti said.
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