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Stafford to test new cellphone policies

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Stafford County high school students will test out relaxed restrictions on cellphone use in order to see if new policies that have divided teachers and administrators will work.

The Stafford School Board established a one-year pilot program for the new policies by a 4–3 vote on Tuesday. School Board members Irene Egan, Scott Hirons and Dewayne McOsker voted against the program.

School Board member Patricia Healy said that she was going to put her trust in the administrators who supported the changes. She also noted that the original proposal from administrators had changed after input was received from teachers.

School Board members Nanette Kidby, Dana Reinboldt and Holly Hazard emphasized that the pilot program will be monitored and revisited next year.

The School Board can choose not to adopt it for the 2015–16 school year and can also amend the policy during the school year.

Under the program, high school students will be able to use cellphones between classes, at lunch and before and after school. Middle school students will also be allowed some privileges, though they are not as liberal as at the high schools. Middle-schoolers will only be able to use cellphones before and after school. Elementary school students won’t be able to display the devices at all at school unless they have permission.

Under the previous policy, students had been able to possess cellphones during school hours but couldn’t display the phones unless they were given permission.

The program also reduced the penalties for violators. Currently, if a student’s cellphone is seen, that student can be punished with a minimum of suspension for 10 days or less or a maximum of expulsion. That can affect acceptance into honor societies. With the changes, the minimum penalty will be a warning.

The policies under the pilot program would still require students to get permission from staff to use phones in the classroom or on the school bus.

A committee of administrators had previously proposed allowing middle and high school students to use cellphones in halls and cafeteria. Proponents argued that the current rules were impossible to enforce.

Healy proposed the pilot program after the majority of respondents to a survey opposed cellphone use between classes and during lunch. The respondents were not as opposed to cellphone use before and after school.

The majority of the 534 respondents to the survey were middle and high school teachers. Administrators, however, continued to come before the board asking for less-strict rules.

Reinboldt stressed that she wanted to see an evaluation of the program at the end of the year.

“If it gets to the point to where people are not following the rule, then conceivably we can change it or remove it,” Reinboldt said.

Egan said that the division’s program that allows students to bring their own technological devices to schools should be evaluated first before cellphone policies are changed.

Based on his data and his own conversations with teachers and students, Hirons thought that the modification went too far when it came to allowing cellphone use between classes. He added that a pilot program was a dangerous road to go down if the privileges were changed in the future.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to be in a school of teens or preteens that can’t use something that they could use last year,” Hirons said.

McOsker proposed his own changes that would have eliminated high schoolers ability to use cellphones between classes, among other things.

The pilot program’s policies are more relaxed than cellphone policies of some nearby school systems. In Albemarle, Chesterfield, Henrico and Spotsylvania counties, schools don’t allow students to communicate on their phones during school hours. Others, like Fauquier and Loudoun counties, leave definitions and authorizations up to principals.

The School Board also approved on Tuesday increases to lunch and breakfast prices to meet federal requirements. Lunch prices will increase by 5 cents, and breakfast prices will increase by 15 cents.

The national school lunch meal guidelines require more servings of fruits and vegetables as well as whole grain bread products, which has increased the cost of meals.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975

vremmers@freelancestar.com

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