Electronic devices legislation in the works
In early December, Rep. Sheryl Allen R-Bountiful announced that she will sponsor legislation to require all Utah school districts to have policies on electronic devices.
In the meantime, Park City School Board President Kim Carson said that the board has been looking at establishing a more comprehensive electronic devices policy. In the Park City School District, each school is responsible for creating its own policies regarding cell phones, iPods, etc.
Board member Lisa Kirchenhetier said that there is not a separate electronic policy for the district, but the policies that they do have cover any unacceptable behavior, whether it’s done with electronic devices or not.
"I would prefer to have each school have their own policy, and to have the district’s policies back those up," she said. District-wide policies, which can be applied toward the improper use of electronic devices, include: Employee Ethics, Academic Integrity, Use of Copyright Materials in Schools, Acceptable Use Policy for Internet Access and Computer Use, Hazing, Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited, and Safe School Policy.
While Superintendent Ray Timothy said that the abuse of electronic devices hasn’t been brought to his attention as an issue yet, across the country, several incidences have been reported, many of which involve inappropriate relationships which develop between students and teachers through text messaging, e-mail and even Facebook and Myspace pages.
Treasure Mountain International Middle School Principal Bob O’Connor said that while they haven’t had any situations of improper relationships yet, the incredible amount of access teachers and students potentially have with each other via cell phones or online Web pages makes it much easier to blur the lines between personal and professional relationships.
At Ecker Hill International Middle School, Principal Greg Proffit said that they have had three or four cases involving student misuse of electronic devices where serious disciplinary action has taken place, but teachers were not involved. "Technology is always pushing at the age of disciplinary action," he said. "Part of our mission is to help kids learn appropriate behavior."
Proffit also feels like parents need to become involved. "Parents need to take every opportunity to understand how these networks work and need to know how their kids are using them," he said.
While Ecker Hill encourages students to leave their cell phones and other electronic devices at home, kids are allowed to bring them to school and leave them in their lockers. "We recognize their importance for organizing family activities after school, but we encourage families to use the school line for urgent business during the day," he said.
As part of Ecker Hill’s goal to help students learn more about appropriate use of technology, Proffit said that the school collaborates with Utah’s District Attorney and Summit County Sheriff’s Office each year to host an Internet safety night for students and parents.
Treasure Mountain also hosted an Internet safety session during school this year, O’Connor said, which really focused on the kids and how easy it is for anyone to access their information.
In the district, Treasure Mountain is unique in that it allows cell phones to be used during passing periods, lunchtime, and before and after school. Cell phones need to be turned off and put away in the classroom. "We’re trying something different this year," O’Connor said. "Kids like the fact that we’re allowing them use, and in exchange, they turn them off in class."
He said it helps teach the children appropriate use and the kids even police themselves because they appreciate the privilege and don’t want it taken away. If a cell phone is seen or heard in a classroom, it is turned in to Assistant Principal Shawn Kuennen and held for one week.
Kuennen said he usually has no more than five cell phones confiscated in one week. "Five’s a lot," he said. The school has not seen much resistance from parents with its new policy. "Most parents let them lose them, but some parents rely on it to check up on their kids."
Kuennen reluctantly calls himself the cell phone guru. Dealing with the use and abuse of cell phones has become a part of his job description. But its not disciplining kids for abusing privileges that takes up most of his time, instead it’s dealing with stolen or missing cell phones.
He said that while the student handbook and school’s newsletter requests that all expensive electronic devices be left at home, most students do not adhere to that requests. "I wind up spending way too much time tracking down lost or stolen cell phones," he said. "I wish I could help students to become more responsible."
Students will put them someplace that’s not secure, he said, like in a backpack in their unlocked locker. Walk down any hall in Treasure Mountain and you’ll see three or four signs for missing cell phones or iPods, Kuennen commented, "but they’re not missing, they’re stolen.
"That’s my biggest concern. They are too attractive to people, and they give students the opportunity to make poor decisions."
While stolen electronic devices are a problem, the school’s new cell phone policy is not. "Teachers are enforcing the rules with respect, and it’s been working out well," O’Connor said.
Despite the fact that high school students are older and, in most cases, are usually given more responsibilities and not less than their younger counterparts at Treasure Mountain, the cell phone policy at Park City High School is much more strict.
"Our kids are really pretty respectful and know that they’re here to learn and that learning doesn’t take place when you’re texting a message, ‘hey how are you,’" high school Principal Hilary Hays said. "We agree with a lot of technology. That’s just one small form of technology that’s not helping kids build life skills."
Carson said she believes that problems coincide with stricter policies. "If it is abused, then they’ll (schools) have to look at the policy, which is what I think happened at the high school," she said.
On Wednesday, Dec. 5, the high school adopted tougher consequences and enforcement of its cell phone policy, which is that cell phones cannot be used, seen or heard inside of the school building, Hays said there were several factors that influenced that decision.
Editor’s Note: For more information about the new consequences and enforcement policies at Park City High School, see "High School changes cell phone policy," in the Wednesday, Dec. 19 education section.
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