Schools loosening cell phone use rules

Published 12:28 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

The debate over cellphone use in public schools is more than a decade old, and a new School Board policy in Isle of Wight County is set to refine the division’s position.

The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, recently approved by the Board for the new school year, allows students to bring their personal electronic devices to school with them to access and utilize the school’s Wi-Fi. Different areas of the school buildings will be designated as either Red, Yellow or Green “zones,” which will dictate the amount of usage allotted for the devices in those areas.

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Areas in a building labeled as Red zones means that use of the electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and the like, is strictly prohibited there. Yellow zones, meanwhile, will mark areas in the building where the use of devices is at the full discretion of the teacher. Green zones will signify that students may use their devices for research, reading “and other education activities,” according to the policy. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton said at a specially called School Board meeting this week that after speaking with principals about the policy, all elementary school facilities for students in kindergarten through third grade will be deemed Red zones in the upcoming year.

Classrooms for students in fourth through sixth grade at Westside Elementary School will be Yellow, he said.

Bathrooms and locker rooms will be marked as Red zones in all the division’s schools, according to Thornton.

“We don’t want kids using their devices in the bathroom,” Thornton said.

The division’s two high schools will be the only buildings that will utilize all three color zones in the upcoming year, according to Thornton.

Thornton said students will be permitted to use their cell phones in cafeterias, common areas and hallways in Smithfield and Windsor high schools, while classrooms will remain Yellow, to be permitted or restricted by the teacher. Should a class move to a hallway or common area for any reason, the hallway or common area would still be classified as Yellow in that instance, Thornton said, as the class would still be in session.

Classrooms and hallways in the division’s two middle schools — Smithfield and Georgie D. Tyler — will be considered Yellow zones. Thornton said that principals are considering Green zones for middle school cafeterias for next year.

Many teachers have already been practicing allowing students to use their devices from time to time in classrooms around the division, Thornton said.

“If we say everything is ‘Red’ and don’t put this policy in place, we’re taking a step back,” Thornton said.

The three-color system will allow principals to alter their school’s zones without the division having to alter the policy, according to Thornton.

School Board Chairman and Hardy Representative Alvin Wilson expressed concern that the policy would mean more time being spent confiscating cellphones misused by students in classrooms.

Thornton said that the division is not supposed to confiscate phones, but that inappropriate use of cellphones in the classroom is already an issue commonly dealt with by teachers.

The policy also states that class time is not to be spent on troubleshooting student devices or charging them.

Smithfield District School Board Representative Kirstin Cook said she was glad to have one set of standards for the whole division in place, and that teachers had the option of permitting device usage in Yellow zones.

“If it’s beneficial for them to use in their classrooms, I don’t want to prevent that,” said Cook.

The policy states that it is not mandatory for students to bring their devices to school. And while students can bring their devices, the division is not responsible should they be lost, damaged or stolen.

“Bringing your own device to school can be useful; however, some risks are involved as well,” the policy states.

According to the policy, students will need to register any devices they plan to use with their school office before being assigned a login and password, and are only permitted to use the school’s wireless network to access the Internet while at school. Parents must also sign a “Parental BYOD User Agreement” provided by the school.

Students will not be penalized for having a device in a Red Zone as long as it is kept out of sight, Thornton said.

Devices that will continue to be prohibited in the schools include laser pointers, too-loud headphones and gaming devices (such as Nintendo DS), according to the policy.

The consequences of inappropriate use of electronic devices, according to the policy, include verbal or written warning, loss of BYOD privileges, or suspension.  {/mprestriction}