Policies target cellphone use

Published 8:00 pm Friday, August 10, 2012

From computers to fingerprint scanners in lunchrooms, technology has been welcomed into schools across the country.

     One piece of technology that poses some challenges for school officials is cellphones in the hands of students.

     In Lincoln County, school districts are handling cellphones differently, but all leaders seem to be pleased with the results.

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     The Lincoln County School District, Brookhaven Academy and Mississippi School of the Arts all have policies that state phones are not to be on campus outside of cars. In the case of MSA, which is a boarding school, students turn their phones in to the office in the morning, according to MSA Executive Director Suzanne Hirsch.

     MSA students take their core classes at Brookhaven High School and their arts classes at MSA, meaning their students fall under two sets of rules. Hirsch said taking the phones away in the morning prevents potential problems at BHS.

     “Brookhaven High has a policy of them not having them in the classroom, so it’s better for them to not run the risk of them having their phone confiscated,” she said.

     Hirsch said the policy takes the school’s juniors some time to adjust to, but ultimately works out.

     “The policy takes a little to get used to with the juniors, but the seniors it doesn’t affect them at all,” she said. “They’ve gotten used to it.”

     In the Brookhaven School District, in contrast to the others in the county, cellphones are allowed on campus. However, their use is strictly forbidden.

     BSD Superintendent Dr. Lisa Karmacharya said the policy is working for them since it was instituted in late February.

     “As far as I know we have not had any challenges since instituting the policy,” she said. “I do not recall anything from last year that was problematic.”

     The BSD has clear discipline for students who violate their cellphone and electronic device policy. It includes a first offense penalty of confiscation until a parent or legal guardian comes and has a conference with an administrator.

     On second offense, the phone will be confiscated for the remainder of the school year and the student will be suspended for two days out of school. A conference will be held with the parent before the student can return to school after the suspension.

     A third offense means confiscation of the phone for the remainder of the year, a five-day out-of-school suspension and a conference. The student will also be sent to the Mullins Alternative School for a period of 45 days.

     Karmacharya added that the discipline remains somewhat open-ended.

     “The punishment follows discipline polices in place in the handbook,” she said. “It’s also at the discretion of the principal as it falls under the same category as a child who is sent to the office, which can be for a variety of reasons.”

     BA has only two steps in their program with the first offense being the phone gets confiscated and the parent must pay a fee to pick it up. Second offense calls for the phone being confiscated until the end of school, according to BA Headmaster Julie Wright.

     “It has come to that only once in three or four years, and that was actually with an elementary school student,” she said.

     The LCSD requires students to keep their phones in their cars and not in their backpacks or lockers.

     Superintendent Terry Brister said cellphones offer both positives and negatives. In the end, however, the negative outweighs the positive.

     “They’re great for emergency communication, but they make for a big distraction,” he said.

     Brister mentioned another potential problem with allowing cellphones in the classroom.

     “We feel like at times cheating on tests has occurred via cell phones, but we don’t have proof of that,” he said.

     Punishment for violating the policy in the four county schools is left up to the principals, Brister said.

     “It can go to the most severe punishment and be adjusted to the situation,” he said.

     None of the school leaders said they had any intentions of changing their policy in the near future.

     “I recall more problems with cellphones in the past, but it has gotten much better and it is controllable now,” said Brister.

     Karmacharya said the district plans to stand by its policy unless something forces them to make a change.

     “We don’t plan to change it unless there is something significant comes up,” she said.

     Among MSA’s students, Hirsch said their policy has spawned one interesting result.

     “It takes away distraction and promotes interaction among the students,” she said.