Board weighs cell phone use in schools

School District 55 administrators will review their campuses’ cell phone policies over the next month and bring a recommendation back to the School Board in September on whether changes are needed.

As it stands now, cell phone use is heavily limited at every school in the district. The only students permitted to use their phones at all during the school day are those at Sweet Home High School, which allows them to be used during breaks and lunch.

Board member Chanz Keeney asked the board to consider whether the district needs a policy during the regular School Board meeting on Monday night. Supt. Larry Horton brought three Oregon School Boards Association examples for board policies and administrative rules to the board meeting for consideration.

Keeney said he is concerned about classroom disruptions caused by cell phones, and about the unfiltered Internet access the phones can provide while students are at school.

“I’d like to take a proactive stance on this,” Keeney said. “I don’t see a need for cell phones in elementary schools. Our teachers need every chance they can to teach these students without distractions.”

He said he had a conversation with an employee of Greater Albany Public Schools. “Their whole district is no cell phones.”

Ideally, he would like to see the same policy throughout the district, he said. “What stirred me about this is I had a second-grader show my second-grader something completely inappropriate at school.”

Granted, he said, the teacher didn’t see it. He remains concerned about the availability of cell phones and Internet access during the school.

But board member Jenny Daniels asked whether high school students need to adhere to the same rules as elementary students.

She said she can see why a third-grade student wouldn’t need a phone during the school day, but during lunch at the high school students can leave campus and use their phones. She thinks students staying on campus during lunch should be able to use their phones too.

In the grades below high school, the rules for cell phones are similar.

At Sweet Home Junior High, phones are to be turned off from 7 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., Principal Hal Huschka said. After 2:30 p.m., with after-school activities, cell phones are useful to students and not a distraction.

If a student’s phone rings or he is caught using it for the first time, the phone is confiscated and returned to the student at the end of the day, he said. After a second offense, the phone is confiscated and kept until a parent picks it up.

With parental involvement at that point, phones are not usually confiscated more than twice, Huschka said.

“It’s probably harder at the high school,” Principal Pat Stineff said. “More kids have cell phones at the high school level.”

If the phone goes off or is used in class, it may be confiscated by the teacher, and the student and phone may be sent to the office, she said.

Keeney said he’s heard that “individual teachers do different things.

“Some allow it. Some don’t.”

He would like to see the policy set as a standard, like tardiness, he said.

Huschka told the board he wasn’t sure a policy would change that. The rules are in place, and it’s the administrators’ jobs to ensure that teachers understand the need to enforce the rules, rather than creating “good” teachers and “bad” teachers from the students’ perspective.

Hawthorne school requires students to check their phones in at the office in the morning. Any student caught with a phone during the day will have it confiscated, and a parent must pick it up.

Crawfordsville and Oak Heights operate on the same principle as the Junior High.

At Foster and Holley, phones must remain in backpacks. If a student uses a phone during school, it is confiscated, and a parent must pick it up.

On buses, students are permitted to use the phones as long as they are not disruptive, Transportation Supt. L.D. Ellison said.

Nicholas Mattson, an eighth-grade student at Sweet Home Junior High, who said he finds it annoying when cell phones ring in class. The teacher has to stop to deal with it.

He sees it happen probably three or four times a month, he said.

Mattson was at the board meeting as part of the process of earning a Scouting badge.

He does not have a cell phone, his mother, Miren Mattson said. The school has a public phone in the office, and he doesn’t need one.

Trinity Yoder, a parent of a high school sophomore, said she likes her son to have his phone so he can call her during his lunch period if he needs something, like lunch money. He pays for the phone himself.

Present at the meeting were board members Lena Neuschwander, Keeney, Billie Weber, Jason Redick, Chairman Mike Reynolds, Dale Keene, John Fassler and Daniels. David VanDerlip was absent.

In other business, Supt. Larry Horton said the tennis courts were ready to go based on Jim Cota’s schedule. Cota is planning to prepare the site, possibly this weekend, and Knife River is prepared to begin building the courts the following weekend with completion in mid-October depending on weather.