Smithville ISD: Student cell phone use banned – Austin American-Statesman
School board members implemented a cell phone use ban at all Smithville schools Monday night, turning away from previous policy that allowed use for instructional purposes at teachers’ discretion.
Students would be banned from using cell phones at school campuses from the start of the school day until the final bell, according to the new policy.
Moreover, cell phones can’t be seen out at all and students must keep them turned off and put away in backpacks or lockers. If a device is seen by staff, the phone will be taken up, officials said. Students may retrieve their phone at the end of the school day after payment of a 15 fee.
Board Trustee Gary Gutierrez was a dissenting voice regarding the ban, teacher enforcement and students prohibition from using cell phones for instructional purposes. He voted against the language banning cell phones for any use.
“I personally think we’re making it harder on our teachers,” he said.
Alan Hemphill, board vice president, said the ban would fix low-scoring issues the district is having with tests.
However, according to preliminary information presented by Cheryl Burns, director of curriculum, the biggest issue the district is facing in testing are test score disparities between white students and the populations of economically disadvantaged African American and Hispanics. Burns said there likely is no correlation with cell phone, and the district will not have final scores and status until August.
The principals and athletic director were asked to weigh in their take on the ban.
Each campus also has been using its own version of the cell phone policy that met the campus’ desired use. Both the elementary and high school principals prefer to allow cell phone use for instructional purposes, though they both said they would follow the policy set by the school board. They also said they don’t have a big problem at their campuses.
High School Principal Kenneth Parker said that the 15-20 minutes resulting from tighter enforcement and ensuing discussions would lose valuable teaching time.
“They’re out of the classroom and not learning,” he said.
Elementary Principal Tammie Hewitt said, “We don’t have enough technology in (the elementary school). The teachers do use them for instructional purposes… and monitor it.”
Hemphill was adamant that the use wasn’t being monitored correctly. “The whole lot of you can say that they’re always used for instructional purposes, but I’ll call you on it,” he said.
Hemphill added that use for instruction purposes was a loophole that should be closed.
“It should be yes or no,” he said.
Athletic Director Cyril Adkins said that the policy is that athletes couldn’t be on their phones while heading to a game or before competing because the students needed to focus. Use is allowed after a game.
There were other reasons bandied about during the discussions. Board Trustee Tay Campbell, who requested at the May board meeting this be placed on the agenda, was against cell phone use even at lunch, saying research shows that students need time to socialize. He also said that cell phones were a distraction to learning.
Trustee Samella Williams said that she got texts from students during the school day, and also cited drug sales via phone as a negative.
Dr. Bethany Logan, the new high school principal, said that cell phones were a liability, citing an example of students taking photos of another in the restrooms and posting pictures online. “It’s a felony and it doesn’t go away at age 18,” said Logan. “It stays with them forever.”
Addressing possible parent concerns regarding communication with their student, Logan said that students don’t need cell phones to contact parents because they can use the office phone.
Alternatives to the ban were discussed before the vote. Trustee Mike Morgan suggested a system in which students check in their phones during the day.
Supt. Dr. Rock McNulty felt that was prohibitive based on the number of students who carry phones. Logan mentioned cell phone monitoring programs in which the teacher could “lock” the students’ phones onto specific screens and would be able to tell when the student left that area of the internet.
Before the change at the June 15 meeting, the cell phone policy in the General Handbook allowed cell phone use for instructional purposes and was set for 2012-13 with input from the District Site-Based Decision Making Committee, comprised of parents, community and business members, school staff and administrators.
Each campus also had a policy already in place regarding usage that was the same as the general handbook or stricter.
Brown Primary has a zero tolerance policy, mainly because of the age of the students and lack of need during the school day, said Principal Mike Caudill. He said the new policy was actually looser than the rules the campus already followed.
“We take them (cell phones) up,” Caudill said. “We don’t have a cell phone policy for four, five, six year olds. We take up anything that disrupts class.”
Currently there is no fee at Brown Primary to get cell phones back at the end of the day.
In 2014-15, 77 cell phones and $1,155 in fees were collected at the junior high; 53 cell phones at the high school for $795, according to district figures.
Hemphill later quipped that if the cell phones were taken up as policy had dictated, the fees would have cleared up the $230,000 deficit shown in the first draft of the 2015-16 budget.
In the public board book found online, the June 15 meeting agenda had four supporting documents attached, two of which were against cell phone use during school. The third was a short pro-con debate, and the fourth was relevant policy information from three comparable school districts — Giddings, La Grange and Lockhart — which according to their 2014-15 handbooks all allow cell phone use for instructional purposes.
“What I’d like is for our scores to be well above the state average,” said Hemphill. “Then (the students) can talk all they want.”
Though Gutierrez voted against the language and complete banning of cell phones, when the motion came up for joint approval of all eight handbooks, a code of conduct and a manual, the yes vote was unanimous across the board. The items voted on in this motion included the General Handbook, four campus handbooks, the Athletic Handbook and Athletic Code of Conduct, the DAEP Handbook, the Tiger Academy Handbook, and the Business Procedures manual for the upcoming school year.
Students will special needs, however, will be allowed to use their own personalized devices.
The consensus from principals and the school board was that the enforcement would most likely fall upon the teachers.
“Whatever cell phone policy we have is only as good as the staff who will administer it,” said McNulty.