District weighs cellphone policy

Published 11:04 pm Friday, September 14, 2012

A pilot study at King’s Fork High allowing students to use cellphones could result in students at all three Suffolk high schools being permitted to use the devices.

At their discretion, King’s Fork teachers have been allowing students to use cellphones in class as a learning tool since the beginning of the school year, despite a 15-year-old district policy banning their use during the instructional day.

Under the pilot introduced by principal Suzanne Rice, students at the school are also able to use cellphones between classes and at lunch.

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“Students in the hallways are more focused, more quiet, and at lunch (they are) more quiet as well,” district Superintendent Deran Whitney reported to Thursday’s School Board meeting.

The King’s Fork pilot, which Whitney admitted should have been referred to the board earlier, was brought to light at the meeting by board Vice Chair Thelma Hinton.

Hinton said a teacher told her “the students was getting more power than the teachers.”

While King’s Fork students have been privileged, she said, “we have suspended a lot of children behind cellphones.

“A lot of children who are now out of school … just by having a cellphone on their possession — they were probably high-risk children but just went across that last notch.”

The board voted unanimously to continue the study by suspending the district cellphone policy for King’s Fork for one month.

After that period, based on the King’s Fork experience, the policy could be rewritten to allow student cellphone use at all three high schools.

“If it’s successful, then it would be appropriate across the board, by all means,” Whitney said.

Board members’ debate over how to proceed on the issue at times grew pointed. Enoch Copeland, claiming a group of King’s Fork teachers don’t support the pilot, said, “you are going to have a problem” with cellphone rules differing between classrooms.

“Every student deserves the same treatment, and you can’t do for one school that you aren’t doing for the other(s),” he added.

Linda Bouchard said, “I don’t think you can stop the march of time into the modern age. We have to ask ourselves, what is the problem with them having cellphones?”

Phyllis Byrum supported giving the King’s Fork pilot more time before changing the policy. “We need to see how it would work and … make a plan if we do make a change¸” she said.

District spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw wrote in an email that violation of the cellphone policy “could be one of the several infractions” that bring students before the Pupil Personnel Committee.

“It is the repeat offenses and the multiple offenses that get them to the PPC hearing because the discipline for the single offenses didn’t seem to have changed their behavior,” she wrote.

Bradshaw also wrote that that a cellphone violation can result in an expulsion hearing for students placed in Turlington Woods, depending on the contract they sign on entering the alternative school.