Warren County Public Schools may review their policy on cellphones for students and staff.
School board president Kristen J. Pence raised the issue at a recent meeting to start a discussion about cell phone use.
“A lot of the emails that I get — we all get — seem to have some basic cell phone use,” Pence said. “Someone texted someone; someone sent a screenshot of something to someone within the school, a video of something, and then just notes to teachers what point they can be destructive in class.
“And so, as a council, we just want to know a little bit more about what is happening in individual schools; what can we do to try to reduce some of the cell phone use and eliminate some of that,” Pence said.
Students may own a pager, cell phone, tablet, personal digital assistant, or other communication device on school property, including school buses. The device must be turned off and out of sight during teaching hours, unless teachers allow it for educational purposes, according to information provided at the board meeting. At no time can a device be used with an unfiltered connection to the internet. The division is not responsible for devices brought to school or school activities. If a student possesses or uses such a device other than as permitted, in addition to other potential disciplinary sanctions, the device may be confiscated and returned only to the student’s parent.
Superintendent Christopher Ballenger provided council members with the division’s policies on cell phone harassment and bullying in schools.
“When you look at cell phones, you know, that’s one of the things that we’re challenged with on a daily basis,” Ballenger said. “Parents want their children to have their cell phones in case they need to communicate with them.”
Some teachers allow students to pull out their cellphones and others limit use after they finish their work, Ballenger said. In some situations, students caught using phones to record video of incidents such as fights are disciplined, Ballenger said. Staff have “cracked down” on students using mobile phones, he added.
But schools face a challenge because cellphones are private property, Ballenger said.
Board member Antoinette D. Funk inquired about the division’s cell phone policy for teachers.
Individual schools have their own cellphone policies, Ballenger said. However, the administration is working to create a division-wide policy. Teachers should not use their mobile phones in the presence of students, he said.
“I think most of our teachers are cell phone professionals,” Ballenger said.
Pence said she didn’t want to create a problem where none exists, but suggested the division could survey teachers, asking them what problems they see with cellphones in the classroom.
Board member Melanie C. Salins noted that some students are using their cell phones to take photos of other children without permission and post images on social media.
“I think it’s pretty clear that’s a problem,” Salins said.
She stressed the need for policy coherence.
“I think all schools should be on the same team,” Salins said. “That said, would I send my child to school without a cell phone with him?” No. I would like my child to have a cell phone with him.
“But I would expect it to be in their book bag, unseen, unheard of, all day,” she added. “I wouldn’t even want to see them at lunchtime or recess or whatever because that’s what creates the problem because they just don’t have the necessary maturity. to understand how harmful it is to take pictures of other people.”
Salins suggested that school policy prohibits a student from having a cellphone out in the open. If taken, staff can pick up the phone and allow the student’s parent to pick it up at the end of the school day, she said.
“I’m sure the kids won’t be happy, but okay,” she said.
Funk said she supports the idea of surveying high school teachers and students. Board member Ralph A. Rinaldi added that using teacher input would allow staff to “own” the policies.
Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith Jr. echoed Salins’ comments. Smith expressed his support for students having cellphones at school, saying he loves having that connection with his children.
“It’s almost like a lifeline, to be honest with you, to a certain extent,” Smith said. “But that lifeline, as we know, is a privilege because at one time, for the majority of us in the room here, I guess, a cell phone didn’t exist.”