A draft of a personal electronic communication device policy presented to the Dothan City school board on Thursday recommends prohibiting the use of cell phones on all K-12 school grounds and buses and implementing harsher punishments for offenders.
The policy would allow students to have the devices, but would prohibit their use, school board chairman Mike Schmitz said. If the policy is approved, first-time violators will have to relinquish their device to school administrators. The administrators will hold the device for two days, after which time they will only release the device to a parent or guardian.
If a student is caught with a wireless communication device a second time on school property, the device will be kept by the school for a period of two weeks, or ten school days. After that time, parents and guardians can pick up the device, but only for a $25 administrative fee.
Third-time violators will have the device taken away for 45 full school days, and continuous violations would warrant confiscation of the device for the remainder of the school year.
“One of the things we all mutually agreed upon is that if cell phones are confiscated, or asked to be turned in and there was a refusal in it, that there should be some bite in it, because that’s a total disrespect whether it is the teacher, custodian or administrator,” Scott Faulk, director of safety, security and attendance, said to the board.
Refusal to surrender an electronic device could earn a student 90 days in P.A.S.S. academy for violating a Dothan City School’s Code of Conduct class III offense.
Faulk held two meetings on Monday earlier this week to get feedback from stakeholders about the cell phone policy. Ten parents and two students combined attended.
The students participating in the meetings contributed some helpful advice to shape the policy’s consequences.
“I did talk to several students and, in their own words, the part that hurts the most is the collecting and holding of the cell phones,” Faulk said after hearing student feedback.
“Some of the parents agreed that if their child was using that cell phone at a time they weren’t supposed to be using it, then most definitely it should be taken up and it should be held.”
He also disseminated a multiple-choice survey online soliciting responses from parents and guardians on their opinions on the use and possession of cell phones on school campuses. He received responses from 673 individuals.
On the survey, 88% of respondents answered “yes,” they were aware of the discipline issues cell phones create in Dothan City Schools like cyberbullying, inciting fights, and cheating.
Out of 669 votes, 70% signaled they felt the current cell phone policy needs stronger consequences. Three hundred sixty-five out of 672 voted that they felt cell phones may create a safety issue in times of emergency. An overwhelming 78% of voters agreed that students are responsible if a cell phone is lost, damaged or stolen while at school. Seventeen percent said it was the parents fault and 4% said the blame would be on the school.
Given two choices, 60% of survey-takers voted for a policy which allows students to use cell phones during non-instructional time only while 40% voted for a policy which gives students consequences if a cell phone is used during school hours – both instructional and non-instructional.
Under the current recommended policy, students would be allowed to keep their cell phones in their car to signal to parents when they are arriving and leaving school.
Faulk said the idea behind the policy is, “out of sight, out of mind.”
Faulk also asked the board to consider using magnetic lock pouches in the future so that students can keep their phones on their person. Those could come as a hefty price to the board, or to the individual, at $30 a student.
“I know how tied we all are to cell phones. You, know whether we’re adults or students, we have it in our hand every minute,” Superintendent Phyllis Edwards said in an interview with the Eagle. “However, what we notice in the world of school and in other places, I think it’s used in a way that can get students into difficulty and into trouble.
“It will be difficult as everything is that you do that is change-oriented, but I think if we’re going to get serious about academics, and about social skills I think it’s time that we probably need to put the phones away.”
The recommendation is still under advisement from Kevin Walding, the board attorney, and may be presented in another public hearing before consideration of approval, Schmitz said.