New Cell Phone Policy Set for Tucker County Schools

By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Cell phones, or in this case Personal Communication Devices (PCD) has vast benefits to everyone who has one, but they can also be a distraction during instructional time.  It became evident during several board meetings that there were variations between each teacher on what was considered permissible use of a PCD in a classroom and what was not.  This lead to a proposal from TCHS principal Stephen Cosner that he presented derived from teachers and students.  Upon review, the board of education felt it had good aspects, though also areas of concern.  Therefore, the board members came together to derive a PCD policy and procedure that will be effective in all three schools beginning the first day.
Four options were considered, and the one selected by the board reads as follows:  “Students may use PCDs before and after school, during their lunch break, in between classes as long as they do not create a distraction, disruption, or otherwise interfere with the educational environment, during after school activities (e.g. extra-curricular activities), or at school functions.  Use of PCDs at any other time is prohibited and they must be powered completely off (i.e. not just placed into vibrate or silent mode) and stored out of sight.”
The policy goes into further details containing school vehicles and their permissibility on them.  It states, “Students may use PCDs while riding to and from school on a school bus or other board provided vehicle, or on a school bus or board provided vehicle during school sponsored activities at the discretion of the bus driver, classroom teacher, or sponsor/advisor/coach.  Distracting behavior that creates an unsafe environment will not be tolerated.”
Social media creates another set of risks all in its own.  Pictures, recordings, or video clips can be taken without permission or knowledge and altered to depict something other than what may or may not have happened.  This topic was one of the top concerns of the members,  therefore, the policy has literature to include these potential issues at well.  “PCDs, including but not limited to those with cameras, may not be activated or utilized at any time in any school situation where a reasonable expectation of personal privacy exists.  These locations and circumstances include but are not limited to classrooms, gymnasiums, locker rooms, shower facilities, rest/bathrooms, and any other areas where students or others may change clothes or be in any stage or degree of disrobing or changing clothes.  The superintendent and building principals are authorized to determine other specific locations and situations where use of a PCD is absolutely prohibited.”
The county schools are intended to be a safe learning environment, and while PCDs can be used in such ways, they can also be used in damaging ways.  Tucker County Schools policy also acknowledges that students must submit their phones to a teacher or administrator upon their request if they feel the policy has been violated and allow them access to the phone.  PCDs may not be used in any way that may be considered threatening, humiliating, bullying, harassing, embarrassing, or humiliating to any other individual.  The policy states, “In particular, students are prohibited from using PCDs to transmit material that is threatening, obscene, disruptive, or sexually explicit or that can be construed as harassment or disparagement of others based upon their race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation/transgender identity), disability, age, religion, ancestry, or political beliefs, and engage in sexting.”  Examples would include pictures, text messages, emails, or other materials falling into this category, and not only will disciplinary actions be taken, but local law enforcement and child services will be contacted as required by law.
Students are also prohibited of using their PCD to cheat on test material or any form of academic dishonesty.  Being able to take your phone and keep possession of them during school hours is to be considered a privilege which can be revoked at any time.  “If the PCD is confiscated, it will be released/returned to the student’s parent/guardian after the student complies with any other disciplinary consequences that are imposed, unless the violation involves potential illegal activity in which case the PCD may be turned over to law enforcement,” the policy explains.  If your phone or other form of PCD is confiscated, it will be stored in a secure location within the schools central office with your name on it until it is released to the parent/guardian or law enforcement.
Any person who discovers a student believed to be using their PCD in violation to this policy is mandated to report their concern to the school principal.  “Students are personally and solely responsible for the care and security of their PCD.  The board assumes no responsibility to theft, loss, or damage to, or misuse or unauthorized use of, PCDs brought onto its property.”  Parents are urged that in the case you need to reach your child while at school to please do so through the school phones as well as students will be permitted to contacted their parents using the school phones  if need arises.
In addition to this in depth policy, the board has also developed a one page disciplinary form that will be strictly adhered to with those who choose to violate the PCD policy.  For first time violators, the device will be confiscated, a conference will be scheduled with the parent or guardian, and then the device will be released to them.  A copy of this form will be sent home informing the parent or guardian of this violation, which will be signed by the principal, and require a parent and student signature as well.
Second offense repercussions include confiscation of device, another parent or guardian conference, release of device to that parent or guardian, and banning the bringing any PCD to school as well as a ban from using any PCD at school for the remainder of the school year.  Copies of these violation forms will be submitted to the family requiring signatures as original copies will be retained in the principal’s office.
Superintendent Alicia Lambert said, “While we understand there is a need for technology in today’s modern world, we feel strongly as a school system that when students are in class it is important to put their personal devices away in order to focus on the instruction and material presented to them.”  “I’m sure that as parents everyone notices the distraction that cell phones cause their children in their normal everyday lives,” she added.  “The same is true in the classroom.  If they are focused on their cell phone they are not focused on the instruction,” she said.  “Our hope is that we can create an atmosphere of concentrated learning in the classroom while still allowing cell phone usage during lunch and before and after school,” Lambert concluded.
TCHS Principal Stephen Cosner said,  “I am fully in support of the hard work the board has put into this.  This will make it clear to all students and parents throughout the county regarding the expectations of phones.”  He continued, “We are going to make every effort to make sure our students and parents understand these expectations on day one and I do believe it is a policy that is fair and will greatly reduce distractions in the classroom.”