Monday, April 9th, 2007
By Betty Lawrence
Ringing phone better not be for student
Local school districts set new cell phone policies
  
The advances in cell phone capabilities have caused a number of headaches for area school administrators.
The Daily Standard has learned most school districts now have cell phone policies, some allowing cell phones in the buildings, but they must be turned off and out of sight, while others strictly prohibit them from being brought into school.
Administrators also have said there have been instances when cell phones have been used inappropriately in school, but the numbers are not excessive, most agree.
Disciplinary action for infractions of school policy generally ranges from confiscation of the cell phone to notification of parents and detention.
"Our policy is, keep it (cell phone) off and out of sight during the school day from the beginning bell to the ending bell," St. Marys City Schools Superintendent Ken Baker said.
However, if the phone happens to ring and even if it is out of sight, teachers have the right to confiscate the item.
"We want them off and out of sight. This way it is not disruptive to the education of students," Baker said.
He said the school has dealt with a few instances, mostly at the high school level, of improper cell phone use.
"Students have been caught cheating (texting) and trying to take pictures of homework papers, but most of the time, they are messaging a friend and it usually is non-academic," he said.
"Academic integrity is a huge concern," Baker continued. "As educators, yes, we need to be assertive and aware of any improper use of them (cell phones), and it's always a challenge for building administrators to stay current. Kids are learning keyboarding earlier and earlier and the reality is, text messaging is how kids communicate."
In neighboring Minster and New Bremen school districts, students are strictly prohibited from bringing cell phones to school.
"Students are not allowed to bring cell phones to school, and there are a lot of reasons why," New Bremen Superintendent Ann Harvey said.
The phones are a distraction, she said.
"They can text back and forth, and now, cell phones have cameras in them. They present all kinds of security issues," Harvey said.
She prefers that students do not bring the phones into the school building at all, because there is no need for the phones. Staff do not search for phones, but if one is seen, it is taken away and the student can pick it up at the end of the day, she said.
New Bremen High School Principal Frank Borchers said there have been nearly a dozen cases this school year in which cell phones had to be confiscated. When the phone is taken away, students also are assigned a 45-minute detention before school.
According to Minster school Superintendent Gayl Ray, school policy "strictly prohibits students from bringing in phones, pagers, any personal music device, such as Walkmans, MP3 players, etc., on school grounds from 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also, headphones are not to be worn in school during school hours."
At Celina and Coldwater schools, the popular items are permitted in the buildings, however, they must be turned off, kept out of sight and not used during school hours.
"We had more problems when cell phones first became popular, but now, the students understand the rules and they follow them pretty well," Celina Superintendent Matt Miller said.
Miller says, from a parental perspective, there can be a need for a cell phone, particularly when it comes to after-school activities.
"They just need to keep them in their book bag or a locker during school hours, and turned off," he said.
Coldwater Superintendent Rich Seas said kids in his district can use cell phones in school after school hours, such as calling for a ride home.
At Parkway Local Schools in Rockford, Superintendent Doug Karst said students are allowed to bring cell phones to school, but they must be turned off during school hours.
Parkway does not encourage cell phones to be kept in lockers; instead, students are asked to keep their phones in their personal belongings, such as a purse, coat, etc.
Marion Local currently does not have a board policy regarding the use of cell phones and electronic devices by students, but plans to review policy on the subject for next school year.
Marion Local High School Principal Michael Pohlman said he can count on one hand the number of times he has had to confiscate electronic items the entire school year.
"If you need an MP3 player, just ask for permission. They are to be used for educational purposes only," he said.
Superintendents Rod Moorman (St. Henry) and David Riel (Fort Recovery) both said they do not like the phrase "zero tolerance" when it comes to students and cell phone use.
"Our school policy is, no cell phones, but we're not making a big deal about it. They should not be visible, and they should be turned off," Riel said. "I try to take the common sense approach. They will have them, and I try not to draw a line in the sand. They are like alarm clocks, kids are going to have them."
Moorman agrees.
"I don't like zero tolerance as there can be extenuating circumstances. If you have a cell phone, get permission from the principal," he advises. "I don't see the issue as a big problem here, but the potential definitely is there. The phones are getting smaller, and it's amazing what they are capable of. They are great devices, but they have their place."
Baker of St. Marys said technology is often a double-edged sword.
"With every positive there is a negative," he said. "But the technology is here to stay."
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