After years of prohibiting students from having cell phones at school, the Liberty County Board of Education Tuesday changed policies, allowing children to possess — but not use — phones on campus.
“That’s a pretty substantial change, and what we’re saying is ‘We’re not going to spend our time looking in your purse and in your bookbags … for a cell phone,” Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said. “It’s out of sight, it’s not ringing, they’re not texting and playing with it, so they can have their phones … This will cut our suspensions in half.”
The board approved the change with a single unanimous vote to amend the student conduct code on recommendation from Title I facilitator Harley Grove. Other code changes address uniforms and parent observations.
Under the new policy, cell phone and other electronic device use will be prohibited between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Students are also prohibited from using electronic devices on school buses.
Devices in use during the prohibited time will be confiscated. First offense will result in confiscation for seven school days; the second offense will result in 10 school days, and devices will be held for 14 school days for third and subsequent offenses.
“Rather than suspension for the offenses, (administrators) felt that confiscation was appropriate … ,” Grove said. “Keep the kids in school, take the item and let them go back to class.”
Board Vice Chairwoman Verdell Jones said the threat of confiscation is likely to keep the students in line.
Only a parent can pick up confiscated devices after the time has passed.
The policy also states that schools will not investigate, replace or reimburse for lost or stolen devices.
Another major change affects parents’ classroom observations.
Parents or guardians may observe classrooms in which their child is present, but they must get approval from a school administrator more than 24 hours in advance. The administrator will arrange a date and time and arrange for a school employee to escort the observer for the duration of the visit.
Observations are limited to 20 minutes and may be requested only one time per semester unless federal regulations require different procedures. Observers are not allowed to use cell phones.
Board member Marcia Anderson asked whether the new rule would affect parents who volunteer in classes.
“We’re working with a committee of parents right now to put together a policy for parent volunteers along with the guidelines that we got from GEMA and other safety agencies,” Scherer said.
Ultimately, the district will establish protocols for visitors, volunteers and parents observing children.
Other student handbook changes that take effect in 2013-14:
• Students will not be permitted to access other students’ electronic communications accounts.
• Middle school students will be allowed to wear black or navy bottoms, a move to reduce clothing costs as students advance to high school. Students will continue to wear white or the school's color shirts.
• Students will be required to wear matching shoes and socks.
• If a student must attend foster care court proceedings, the absence will be excused.
• Drug-related products such as hookah pipes and rolling papers will be prohibited.
• Students who ride buses will be required to ride the same bus for morning and afternoon routes.
• Students receiving a first-written referral for a non-violent bus incident may be given a verbal warning or may be suspended from the bus for up to three days for pre-K through eighth grade and up to five days for high-school at the discretion of a school administrator.