Cell phone use causes a variety of problems in schools, school administrators informed school board members during a Cherokee School Board meeting on June 16th.
Disruption of class, distraction of students from school work, potential cheating, potential violations of privacy and inappropriate direct communications that should go through school staff are among the identified problems attributed to the widespread use of cell phones by students.
Larry Hunecke, principal of Washington High School, suggested a change in the disciplinary policy regarding cell phones. He made the suggestion during discussion of changes to be made in the student handbooks for the coming school year.
Currently, when a cell phone is seen or heard, the cell phone is confiscated for a time and the student receives in-school suspension.
Hunecke said there are numerous repeat offenders. He said keeping cell phones from students for progressively more days for repeat offenses is not an option since legal counsel has advised that cell phones are regarded as personal property not to be withheld for more than a brief period.
The change Hunecke is proposing is to require parents to pick up the phones after they are confiscated.
"A parent won't pick up a child's report card but will pick up a child's phone," Hunecke said.
Rather than being allies in the effort to control inappropriate cell phone use, parents are often a big part of the problem, according to Hunecke. He explained that a parent will often text message a student during the school day and expect a response during the school day.
For family emergencies, parents are asked to call the office and leave a message, but Hunecke said sometimes, a parent will demand to speak to the student directly. Sometimes a student will arrange to have a parent pick the student up during the school day without informing the office.
Larry Weede, Cherokee Middle School principal, said the same problem occurs at the middle school.
"This can cause a dangerous situation. If a student doesn't show up for a class we might have to issue a missing person report. I'm sure parents don't want that but they'll stay in the car without coming into the office," Weede said.
Cell phones have even been a problem at elementary school, according to Barb Radke, principal of Roosevelt Elementary School.
Radke explained that elementary students are often given old phones as toys. Even when service is discontinued on a cell phone, it can still be used to dial 911.
"We have had 911 calls made from the playground," Radke said.
John Chalstrom, superintendent, demonstrated how a camera cell phone could be used to take a photo of a test paper for the purpose of cheating. Also, having a compact camera built into a cell phone makes it possible to produce a photo or video without the knowledge of the student or staff member being photographed or filmed. This raises serious privacy issues, according to Chalstrom.
He also noted that in the event of a real emergency at a school, all the 911 calls would overwhelm emergency service dispatchers.
Although Chalstrom is supportive of efforts to limit cell phone use, he believes the problem cannot be eliminated.
"Cell phones have become a part of the social fabric and to expect to eliminate them totally from school would be niave," Chalstrom said.
Terri Weaver, school board member, suggested that each student, along with a parent, be required to sign a statement that the student and parent are aware of the district policy regarding cell phones.
"That's a good idea," Hunecke said.
The board will act on handbook changes, including cell phone policy, at a later date.