2017-12-01 / Front Page

School phone policy reviewed

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Cell phones can be a powerful tool to keep informed and stay in touch with friends and family, but in the hands of teenagers can also be a dangerous and distracting device.

Members of the Scarborough Board of Education’s policy committee recently reviewed how to manage cell phones in the hands of students, in terms of classroom disruption, cyberbullying and improper cell phone usage. On Nov. 30, the full school board was scheduled to have its first reading on potential changes to JFCK-R Student Use of Cellular Telephones and Other Electronic Devices.

The policy, adopted in March 2013, states “during classes and school activities (cellphones and other electronic devices) must be turned off” unless a teacher

“specifically authorizes students to use such a personal electronic device.”

Aside from that policy, the school department has a bullying and cyberbullying policy in place and mirroring the school board policy, the high school and middle school handbooks outline when, where and how cellphones can be used.

The high school handbook states cellphones cannot be used in class, but can be used, on vibrate mode, between classes and in the cafeteria and are subject to be searched or confiscated if there is suspicion they are being used for “accessing, viewing, forwarding, downloading or displaying images that are defamatory, abusive, vulgar, obscene, sexually explicit, sexually suggestive, threatening, discriminatory, harassing or illegal.”

The school board policy on cyberbullying further states students cannot use their phones for sending or leaving messages that are “mean or threatening” or to send “embarrassing or sexting photographs of other students.” In fact cameras in electronic devices can only be used during school with proper permission, but according to the school board policy is “strictly prohibited in locker rooms, restrooms and classrooms.”

At the middle school students are not allowed to use electronic devices, including cell phones, during the school day unless they have approval. The devices must be silenced and out of sight.

Policy Chairman Donna Beeley said it may be time to revisit the school board’s policy.

It is a topic other school districts may be looking into as well. Beeley said the topic of cellphone usage and social media bullying in schools came up during a panel by Drummond Woodsum at the Maine School Management Association’s fall conference in Augusta in late October.

Earlier this year, student use of cell phones were banned outside of between classes, at lunch or with teacher approval at Lewiston Middle School due to cyberbullying concerns. At other schools, including Whittier Middle School in Poland, Lincolnville Central School and Camden-Rockport Middle School, cell phones are required to be stashed away in a student’s locker during the school day.

Freeport High School bans cellphone use during classes and study halls, but does allow use in between classes and during lunch.

At Howard Troy Middle School in Belfast, cellphones are banned during school hours, unless a student is given permission to call/text parents during lunch. At Morse High School in Bath, students are asked to leave their cellphones in a special over the door organizer when they enter the classroom.

In RSU 50, cellphone use is prohibited during school, but can be used, with permission, during field trips or extra-curricular activities. Cellphones must be kept out of sight in student lockers at Middle School of the Kennebunks.

Although the policy and handbook procedures clearly outline how cell phones are used in school, Beeley said more may be needed to be done.

“If there is a problem, I think the board needs to be open to making changes to make sure our students are safe and not being bullied,” she said.

Scarborough High School Principal David Creech said although he feels the policies are “fair and appropriate,” but would support a more in depth discussion about cellphone/electronics use.

“I am up for any discussion about how we can do a better job and is what we are doing for students the best. Not just with this, but with everything we do,” he said.

Creech said technology in the hands of students has sound educational value, but it needs to be closely monitored.

“It may sound simplistic, but technology, if used wisely, is a powerful tool. We are fully into 1 to 1 laptops, which has transformed the resources offered for students and teachers,” he said.

That being said, Creech said schools “have a responsibility to educate students how to use technology wisely.”

Beginning at Wentworth School and continuing throughout middle school and into freshmen year, students undergo digital citizenship training to make sure they are learning to be responsible with technology and refraining from cyberbullying.

That work, Creech said, needs to continue throughout a student’s entire high school career.

“Just as technology is changing rapidly, as educators, we have to continue to grow and support our students in finding appropriate ways to use technology,” he said.

While school staff can monitor student use of the school-issued laptops, monitoring how students use their personal devices during study halls, lunch and between classes is much more difficult.

“It’s their personal device to use as long as they are not violating the policy we have in place and not invading someone else’s privacy, recording someone else or taking pictures of someone else. These are all violations, unless you have permission,” he said.

Creech said not a week goes by without having a conversation with a student about the proper use of social media and often students come to him or Greg Applestein or Sue Ketch, the school’s assistant principals, about a concerning text or photo they have seen.

“There is a lot of talk about cell phones out there and we need to really be engaged in educating ourselves about what cellphone use is doing to not just students, but everybody,” Creech said

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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