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Teachers oppose cellphone use

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A proposal for relaxed restrictions on cellphone use in Stafford County’s middle and high schools was deferred by the Stafford School Board after several teachers spoke against the change on Tuesday.

Concerned that they have only heard the administrators’ point of view, board members asked staff to come back with input from teachers and some parents on the proposed rules. A committee of administrators recommended that the changes be adopted.

Currently, students are allowed to possess cellphones but can’t use or display the phones anywhere in the school during school hours except if staff has given them permission.

Under the proposed change, staff permission would still be required to use cellphones in the classroom, but students would be able to use the cellphones in the school in general, such as in the halls or cafeteria. Students would not be allowed to film or take photographs, but would be able to make calls, texts and access the Internet.

The code of conduct also prohibits that the classroom be disrupted by the devices.

The changes would have also required elementary school students to store the devices during the school day and allowed them to use the devices in class with the permission of staff.

Several current and retired teachers spoke against the proposed changes to the policy during the public comment period on Tuesday. Some said that the students are not ready for such adult privileges, pointing to the recent incidents in Stafford schools. Investigations are currently underway for a case in which students at a Stafford middle school passed around nude photos on smartphones.

“They don’t think before they post,” Theresa Thompson, a Stafford teacher, said.

Kathryn Dennis, a retired Stafford County teacher, said that she has caught students cheating by texting answers or by sending photographs of tests.

She also worried about the new rules would increase cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is already defined as one form of bullying in the school’s code of conduct and is punishable by a minimum of short-term suspension of 10 days or less to maximum of expulsion.

“Student cellphones are a distraction to the entire classroom,” Dennis said. “It doesn’t convey a sense of place that this is not a mall but a place of learning.”

She equated the allowing of texting in the halls to texting while driving and echoed another speaker when she said that the cellphones would backlog the already crowded hallways.

School Board member Dewayne McOsker agreed.

“I think the teachers brought up that when they get in the school, they need to know that they are in school,” McOsker said. “I don’t think we want them to walk around the hallways looking like zombies.”

He suggested that the driving force behind the proposed changes is the burden the current rules put on administrators.

McOsker added that he has heard overwhelmingly from teachers that the change would disrupt their classrooms.

“We do need to find a way to make it useful and not distracting. I am concerned as many of my School Board members are that we did not get the teachers’ point of view,” School Board member Scott Hirons said.

School Board member Dana Reinboldt said that she has heard repeatedly this past year that no one has asked the teachers how they are having to deal with the decisions that are being made.

Daryl Nelson, the executive director of administrative and legal services for the schools, said he was surprised at the opposition the proposal received.

“It’s [the proposed changes are] not to say that students aren’t improperly using them [cellphones] now. I don’t think you should take the opportunity from 99 percent of students that are following the rules because of the 1 percent that are not,” Nelson said. “The violators will be punished.”

The board did approve on Tuesday an expansion to their rule regarding obscene materials. It now specifically prohibits the possession and distribution of obscene audio recordings as well as nude or partially nude photographs. The board also tacked on a cautionary notice, which states that explicit photographs of minors that are considered to be child pornography would be reported to local law enforcement.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975

vremmers@freelancestar.com

 

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