Should students be able to use mobile phones more at school, even as part of classroom instruction? Or should they be completely banned because of a few students bullying their classmates and sharing videos taken at school on social media?
It was the topic of a Marion County School Board business meeting on Thursday. The ultimate question for council members is whether it’s time to go back to the days before cell phones and ban them during the school day.
Although no decision has been made council members see the problem in different ways, with oldest council member Don Browning, 79, suggesting that cell phones should be used in every classroom as a teaching tool .
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Cell phones aren’t bad, “like cars aren’t bad,” he said. Bad decisions by a few shouldn’t eliminate technology for all students, Browning said. Students use them to do research at the request of a teacher, said board chairman Eric Cummings.
Other board members, as well as some managers, believe cell phones should be turned off and not seen throughout the day. The student should focus on learning, not texting with a helicopter parent or checking likes on social media.
The belief is that with the emergence of TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, students are now using these platforms to denigrate classmates, film teachers or escalate tensions within a school. Turning them off will also promote more personal interaction, according to some board members.
Current policy gives managers leeway on cell phone use
Danielle Livengood, director of curriculum, teaching and digital learning, gave the school board a breakdown of current cellphone policy.
She said “students may be in possession of a cell phone, but it may not be visible or activated during regular school hours.” What gives directors leeway is that “the exception is with administrative approval,” Livengood noted.
Students are permitted to use the devices on district transportation, as long as they also use earphones or headphones. The policy does not allow unauthorized recording or photography of employees, volunteers and/or students.
“When a student violates this policy, phones may be confiscated,” she noted.
The difference between the two levels is the repetitive behavior. A student usually receives a verbal warning for the first offense, and either another verbal warning or a written warning for a second offense.
“Usually on the first offense a student’s phone is confiscated and then the parent will have to come at the end of the school day, or the next day, to pick up the phone.”
The procedure is similar for a second offence. “And then, on the third offense, the offense switches to insubordination,” she noted. Insubordination can result in suspension from school or expulsion.
Chad Frazier, a district superintendent, said there were 14 Level 1 violations and 31 Level 2 violations in elementary schools during the 2021-22 school year through early April.
“In high school, our total level one cell phone violations were 59, and our level two cell phone violations were 259,” Frazier noted. “The total between primary and secondary equates to 895 cell phone violations for 2021-2022.”
He said there were 29,363 violations in total from all cases in public schools in Marion County. Of all these offenses, 3% involved cell phones.
Two directors share differences orientation
Frazier introduced two directors who have differing opinions on how they choose to implement the district’s cellphone policy. And both comply with district rules based on the wording of the policy.
Dion Gary, principal of Belleview Middle School, says cell phones are not allowed to be on or visible at all to his sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
“The policy is that cell phones are not to be seen or heard,” Gary pointed out. “And so that means a student can have a cell phone in their book bag, turned off for security, and that’s an appropriate way to use cell phones.”
As for the issue of security, the theory is that a cell phone can make a noise that could attract a gunman if one ever aimed at a school.
Gary said the biggest complaint from parents is that they want to know their child is safe and can be reached at all times. “I can contact your student within 45 seconds,” Gary said, which he often tells parents.
Chris Carlisle, principal of Vanguard High School, said students should turn off cell phones in class unless the teacher gives permission to use web-based apps or websites.
“We follow the code of conduct on our campus,” Carlisle said. “Our exception is that they can use their cell phone with the teacher’s permission.”
Carlisle noted that “our parents expect them to be able to communicate with their child during the school day, so we allow our students to use them during transitions and lunches.”
Some students say school cell phones are valuable
Frazier said the district interviewed several high school students and found they viewed the possible policy change as unfair because only a few were violating the policy.
“They (the students) wanted me to make sure I was expressing the opinion that there are a lot of students out there doing the right things and not abusing cell phones,” Frazier noted.
Some of the reasons given by students for productive use of cell phones include: safety, communicating with teachers during homework, using educational apps, and using phones to update school hours. school club meeting, to name a few.
“One of our students reported that many students at our high schools use cell phones to track their blood sugar due to medical issues,” Frazier noted.
The students also pointed out that those peers who posted videos during the school day were using social media “burner accounts” with fake emails that could not be traced back to them. Council vice-chairman Allison Campbell was skeptical of the validity of the survey.
“Thank you Mr. Frazier for that, but I’m a little wondering,” she noted. “I just want to say that the students chosen for an investigation are probably not the students causing the problems.”
Board members toppled over students’ cell phone use
Melanie Slaughter, a parent and regular speaker at board meetings, told the district it needed to think long and hard about how it would adjust the policy going forward. While students should turn off phones, teachers should also set a good example.
“You’re going to have a major problem if you ask the kids not to be on the phone, or not to take it out, and their teacher is sitting there during their test staring at the phone, checking emails,” he said. noted Slaughter.
Browning believes cell phones are a part of life.
“I don’t see them as criminals or even negatives,” Browning said, adding that the technology should be embraced. “We’re talking about education. If you’re going to Harvard, you’re going to work for FedEx, or you’re going to do whatever, you have to be the sharpest person in the room.”
Campbell said the educational apps students use on their phones are also accessible on the Google Chromebooks the district has available to students. Campbell actually asked Carlisle about his school’s student interaction over lunch.
“When you’re in the cafeteria, how many students do you see alone on cell phones, or in a circle and they’re all on cell phones, instead of having a dialogue, a communication relationship?” Campbell noted.
Carlisle said he saw a lot of students interacting. Campbell said the district needs to make sure “we’re not contributing to student and cell phone addiction and addictive social media use.”
Board member Thrower agreed, stating that cell phones have become an obsession. She has seen with her own eyes how much time discipline deans spend investigating school issues that have popped up on a social media app.
“We survived very well without cellphones or social media for a very, very, very long time,” Thrower noted. “I think about how much extra time would be saved in a teaching day if kids weren’t constantly checking their phones.”
Cummings said the board members all had “different views on how to deal with cellphones at the school level.”
“If you can use it to engage students for educational purposes, there’s a place for it,” he noted. “There is also a place for security reasons.”
However, Cummings also noted that he had also “seen videos of kids fighting on buses and doing different things on campus, using their cellphones in a way that completely violates this policy.”
Superintendent Diane Gullett said the student code of conduct is reviewed annually and the committee will look to see if any adjustments can be made.
In the end, no official changes were made to the policy and the principals each have their own policies that fit within the policy of the district as a whole. Every school is different and the policy can be used to best suit these populations.
Joe Callahan can be reached at (352) 817-1750 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.