High School changes cell phone policy
"hey what’s up?" Send. "nothing in class" Send. "want to go to the outlet mall after school?" Send. "yeah sounds good" Send.
And so it goes. Text messaging has become as commonplace for teenagers as sleeping, eating and breathing. What better way to communicate during school than by quick, under-the-desk texting during class.
But while some texting conversations can be as innocent as figuring out what to do after school, the potential for not-so-innocent messages is boundless as well. From sending test answers to bullying to dealing drugs, text messaging can cause serious problems.
Beyond texting, the increase in cell phone capabilities can cause situations for schools as well. "Cell phones are becoming so much more powerful in their software that it’s become a distraction in schools," Park City High School Principal Hilary Hays said.
Most cell phones can take pictures and connect to the Internet. Those capabilities, put in the wrong hands, can result in inappropriate behavior, such as taking photographs of other students in locker rooms and then immediately posting them online.
"Cell phones have been an issue since they came out," Hays said. "They’re wonderful tools, incredible learning tools, but they can also be tools for doing a lot of things at school that are pretty negative."
Wednesday, Dec. 5, Park City High School announced to students that enforcement of its cell phone policy was becoming more stringent and consequences for violations would be tougher. According to Hays, the school’s policy is that cell phones cannot be used, seen, or heard inside the school building.
If this policy is violated, new rules state that the student’s phone will be taken away and turned into Assistant Principal Dave McNaughton each morning for a week. Previous consequences for a first offense were to have it taken away and given back at the end of the day with a parent called as a warning.
For a second offense, McNaughton said there are now several disciplinary options, including consulting with parents to have the phone taken away entirely for a week, turning it into the office for an extra two weeks and/or doing community service.
Hays several specific incidents led to the change in policy. "It was like the perfect storm," she said. "We were having a lot of conversations about kids being too plugged in talks were being had the incident happened, and we were seeing a lot of apathy with teachers enforcing the cell phone policy."
According to senior Andrew Brothers, the "incident," which Hays referred to but refused to comment on, dealt with drug dealing via text messaging. He said the rumor was that the school found out there was a drug ring in which kids were dealing drugs and setting up plans through text messaging.
Hays and McNaughton would neither confirm nor deny that this was in fact what took place and Hays adamantly stated that the "incident" had nothing to do with the changes made in the cell phone policy.
McNaughton said overall, "we have had incidences of kids cheating with their cell phones, kids harassing other kids through texting, incidences of what may or may not have been drug-related activity …"
All of these things, according to Hays, are normal high school problems. "I think our school is typical of any school in the United States. Cell phones have posed a challenge to all high schools, and it’s something that we try and work with students instead of against students," she said.
But students like senior Jeff Holt don’t think the school is approaching it in the right way. Holt had his phone taken away Monday, Dec. 3 for having it out in the library. He said he had taken it out of his pants pocket because it was too tight when he was sitting down. "I forgot it was out and a teacher just came by and scooped it up.
"I think it’s pretty radical to take a student’s phone for the whole day because what if something happened," he said. "My mom’s not going to think to call the school, and then have them have to come find me in one of my classes. If anything happens, she’s going to want to call me on my phone."
Last year, something did happen to Holt on school grounds when having his cell phone would have come in handy. "I was at lunch one day, and I had a guy come up and almost assault me, and I had no way of calling anyone because Mr. McNaughton had my phone," he said.
Brothers had his phone taken away on Tuesday, Dec. 4 because, he said, he was calling to see what time he had to go to physical therapy. He was heading out the door (students can use cell phones outside of school), but he was not outside yet when it was taken away. He also had incidences last year when, he says, his grandmother was in the hospital and he needed to use his cell phone to know if he should pick up his younger siblings.
This idea of "needing" to use a cell phone is very generational according to Hays. "I think the funnier part of it for us old people who remember the day when we actually could go to high school without a phone and could always use the land lines, is that kids seem to think that that is absolutely an impossibility now," she said.
Brothers said that while he understands it has to be equal treatment for everybody, he believes teachers should be more lenient with kids they know aren’t trying to cause trouble.
Holt agrees. "There are always going to be kids that abuse privileges like the kids who got caught dealing drugs but that’s no reason to take them away from all of us," he said. "I mean, I wasn’t even using my cell phone, and it got taken away."
For Hays, it’s not just about stymieing inappropriate use of cell phones. It’s about going deep into the learning process and building social skills not through cell phones, but through classroom interactions.
"As soon as you’re plugged in, you’re not engaged in social interaction," she said. "Schools bring people together and make them interact, and texting can hinder that."
McNaughton also feels strongly about cell phones’ affect on students socializing. "One of the things that blows me away is the isolation that occurs with technology," he said. "Seeing kids in a group but not talking to each other, they’re removing themselves from their environment."
Opinions like these from faculty and students of the high school have ignited a school-wide discussion about the issue, Hays said. "It’s created an incredible dialog and a mass amount of critical thinking," she said. "There is a wall where kids and teachers can write down what they believe are their rights."
Senior Katie Porter’s phone was taken away right around the same time as Holt and Brothers, but she has a different opinion about the policy. "It didn’t really bother me that much," she said. "I think that there probably are problems in the classrooms."
Luckily, Hays says that these problems are far from huge or overwhelming, and instead they can create a platform for discussion.
Editor’s Note: For more information about Park City High School’s wall of discussion, see Student to Student article, "Cell phones: Controversy in search of a compromise," by Jordan Fischer. Check out the education section Saturday, Dec. 22 for an article describing the electronic devices and technology policies district and statewide.
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