For generations we did without cellular telephones. The earth continued to rotate on its axis, and human society somehow survived.
Now cell phones are considered all but a necessity, and their proliferation has spawned a whole new realm of discussion about their peripheral effects on things like public safety and common courtesy.
One of those discussions is in education, most recently in the Muscogee County School District, where the school board has the unenviable responsibility of balancing punishment of students who flout cell phone rules against considerations of common sense and the greater good.
It should go without saying that students talking, texting or, worst of all, cheating with cell phones in school cannot be tolerated. But the appropriate discipline for violators makes for some spirited debate.
The MCSD prohibits the use of cell phones in school, but has not specified punishments; that might be about to change. Under a proposed new policy, a first-time or phone confiscated by the principal for three days; it could be picked up by a parent at the end of the third school day. That increases to five days for the second offense, and 10 days for the third, with two days’ in-school suspension and a mandatory parent conference. A fourth offense would result in full suspension.
“At that point,” Superintendent Susan Andrews accurately noted, “… it’s really about breaking the rules and not about cell phones.” She’s right, of course: Four or more instances of defying the same policy indicate a bigger problem than violating a specific school rule.
Board members Naomi Buckner and John Wells fear that suspending an at-risk student for a cell phone violation could be self-defeating for a school district trying to lower dropout rates and increase graduations.
That’s a legitimate issue for discussion. So, we believe, is this:
Taking phones away from violators while they are on school grounds or involved in school activities is a fair and perhaps necessary measure. Other area school systems do just that. But confiscation of students’ — or technically, in many cases, parents’ — property for days at a time could create a bigger problem than it solves.
Whatever the case in the proverbial and mostly mythical good old days, cell telephones in this era are a commonplace means by which parents stay in touch with their children, and vice versa. The possible scenarios, if the school system breaks that means of communication, should give the board pause. The first time a student’s car breaks down on the way home from a date or a visit to a friend, with his or her cell phone locked in a principal’s office, an angry parent could be the least of the complications.
No reasonable person, parent or not, minds stern punishment for rule violations, especially repeated ones. Cell phone abusers already intrude rudely on too many areas of our lives without adding something as important as education to the list. But there are other, and in this case better, ways of being strict.