Students who bring cell phones to school could face harsher punishments if the Muscogee County School District implements policy changes considered at a school board retreat Saturday.
The district’s policy prohibits the use of personal electronic communication devices, including cell phones, pagers and two-way radios, during school, but it does not outline the consequences if a student is caught using any of those devices. Cleo Griswould, the principal at Kendrick High School and a member of the district’s cell phone procedures committee, said because most cell phones have texting and picture and video messaging capabilities, the devices have become more of a distraction.
During the meeting at the Columbus Public Library, Griswould said students can cheat by texting answers during tests or using the phone’s calculator functions in math. Cyber-bullies can use the phones to send threatening messages or take embarrassing or suggestive photos. The phones could be used for bomb threats and could jam phone lines. Texting especially can be a problem, she said.
“Our students can text without looking,” she said. “You heard a lady won $50,000 in a texting competition. ‘It’s all in the thumbs.’”
The committee outlined the proposed punishments for students caught using cell phones. After the first offense, the cell phone will be turned into the principal and the student’s parent can pick up the phone at the end of the school day.
After the second offense, the student could be assigned administrative detention and the parent could pick up the phone after three school days.
After the third offense, the student would be assigned in-school suspension and the parent could pick up the phone after five school days.
After the fourth offense, the student would be suspended for two days and the parent could pick up the phone at the end of the school day.
If the parent were adamant that the phone could not be held by the principal, then the student could take two days suspension as punishment.
Board member John Wells said he worries about students being suspended from school and receiving zeroes for course work. He asked why the principal couldn’t keep the student’s cell phone after the fourth offense.
“We prohibit knives, tobacco,” he said. “I think cell phones ought to fall into that no-tolerance category.”
Eddie Obleton, the district’s head of student services, said principals have confiscated phones, but they cannot keep the phone.
“If principals keep the phone, they can be arrested; it’s private property,” he said.
Board members Naomi Buckner and Cathy Williams said the committee should consider putting more focus on taking the phone away from students and increasing the amount of time the principal keeps the phone after the first offense so that students learn the first time.
“As the parent of a teenager, the thing I do most for discipline is take that cell phone,” Buckner said. “In my house, the worse thing I can do is take that cell phone.”
Board member Pat Hugley-Green said many teachers have cell phones and sometimes use them in class. She asked whether the committee had discussed teachers using the devices. Griswould said they had not.
Superintendent Susan Andrews said, after the new policy is implemented, there will be a grace period to allow students and parents to get used to the change in consequences. She suggested the grace period last until the middle of the first nine weeks, but the exact time is still to be determined.
The grace period should be long, board member Rob Varner said, because cell phones are so prevalent.
“It feels like to me that we’re trying to hold back the tide,” Varner said. “It’s such a norm. It’s like putting your watch on every day. It’s like telling the wind not to blow.”
Other issues were discussed during the retreat, including:
Ÿ Challenges for the district for the coming school year, including improving math test scores, increasing the amount of technology used in the classroom, improving the communication with job applicants, increasing the response time to school maintenance requests and gaining public support for a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Ÿ The possibility of creating a lab school in partnership with Columbus State University. The lab school would provide a place for CSU’s education students and Muscogee County teachers taking professional learning classes to observe teachers in a classroom, said CSU College of Education Dean David Rock. The elementary school would include about 450 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The facility would be a CSU building. The university would pay half of the employees; the school district would pay the other half. The facility also would be energy efficient and environmentally friendly, and the school would integrate conservation into the curriculum.
Funding for the project still has to be worked out. Andrews said the school is still “a germ of an idea” that she wanted to take to the board to see whether they liked the concept. If the project moves forward, Rock said, the school could be finished by 2011.
Ÿ Adding portables to Hardaway High and Northside High, due to an increased number of transfers under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Carver High, Jordan High, Kendrick High, Shaw High and Spencer High did not make Adequate Yearly Progress last year. Their students could request transfers to Hardaway or Northside, which made AYP. Columbus High also made AYP last year but does not have to accept No Child Left Behind transfers because it is a total magnet school.
Hardaway and Northside added five portables to accommodate the increased number of students at the beginning of last school year. Andrews said they are working with the schools that did not make AYP to increase their scores. The schools also are trying to develop community spirit, so students will feel a kinship to the school and be less likely to transfer, she said.