School district ponders use of phones in class

COUNTY — The School District of Pickens County is considering a policy that could allow teachers and students to utilize cell phones in the classroom as instructional technology aides.

“Last year we piloted a program where students could bring their own technology to use in the classroom with the permission of the principal and the teacher. That pilot went very well,” said SDPC Superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew. “We are bringing back to you (policy) JICJ, that would allow students to use their cell phones and their paging devices during classroom instruction only with the permission of the school-level administrator and the teacher.”

Current policy pertaining to paging devices (defined as any telecommunications device including cellular telephones, camera phones, pagers, etc. that emits an audible signal, vibrates, displays a message, a picture or otherwise summons or delivers a communication to the possessor) states that such devices are not allowed in school buildings or on school campuses beginning at 7:30 a.m. on an academic school day without the permission of the school principal or her/his designee.

“You will see the changes in the policy of what operating, what on is, when it would be appropriate for it to be on and when it should be off,” said Pew. “We also have added to that a student permission form, so that if a teacher wanted to use cell phones instructionally, then the student and the parent would have to sign the permission form where they understand the rules of when they can have it on and when they cannot.”

Changes to the current policy concerning the use of cell phones read as follows: Operating paging devices are allowed during classroom instruction, subject to permission from both the principal and classroom teacher. Use of these devices is for academic purposes only. When not permitted, during this time, paging devices are to be turned “off” and stored, out of sight, in pockets, bags, backpacks, etc.

SDPC personnel will direct students in the appropriate use of personal paging devices, which at times may be encouraged, and at other times may require that the devices are to be turned off and put away for certain activities. Personal devices will not be allowed to disrupt the school environment, and may be collected by the teacher or other SDPC personnel.

First reading of the policy raised some concern for SDPC board trustee Ben Trotter for several reasons, including the idea that not every child is afforded the luxury of having his own cell phone for use in the classroom.

“Do you really think it’s a good idea to tell our young adults that you can use this stuff when we want you to use it, but when you want to, don’t do it?,” asked Trotter. “There is a bill in Columbia right now that says cell phones can’t be on school campuses. If they pass this, then this policy would be overriding their law and we can’t do that.”

Pew said the SDPC would not do anything that violated state laws issued out of Columbia. As for students having and using cell phones in the classroom, she said that having them out in the open appears to be a more effective means of checking behavior.

“What we found through our pilot is because the teachers would have them put their cell phones out on their desks, they were better able to monitor what the student was doing because it was out in the open instead of in their pockets,” said Pew. “They can text in their pockets. If the teacher does not want to use it, they don’t have to.”

Like Trotter, board trustee Judy Edwards also voiced her concern about students being allowed to use cell phones in a classroom setting.
“I know at the new Easley High School we have had strict “no devices” since school started,” said Edwards. “So that’s going to change with this?”

Pew explained that if the teacher had something specific that he or she wanted to do, the teacher would have to go to the principal to get approval to use the devices for classroom instruction.

“One of the ways a teacher might use a cell phone is with a vote,” said Pew. “The teacher can ask a question and the students can go in with their cell phones and answer the question and the teacher can see what their response was.”

Trustee Jimmy Gillespie asked Pew if the SDPC has encountered any problems with parents of students who violated policy.

“Do you have a problem with confiscating someone’s cell phone (since) their parents are paying for it?” asked Gillespie.

“When they have a first offense, the administrator talks with the parent about the policy to make sure they understand the consequences,” said Pew. “We have been able to confiscate and keep them for violating policy.”

The consequences for violating school policy regarding the use of cell phones and paging devices is clearly spelled out for parents and students.

Whether or not cell phones are used for instructional purposes in the classroom will be decided by individual teachers, who must have the permission of their principals. Parents and students will be required to read and sign a permission form.

Policy JICJ must pass two more readings before the policy can be officially adopted and put into practice throughout Pickens County schools.