MOUNTAIN PINE -- The Mountain Pine School Board on Tuesday tabled a new cellphone policy that would impose harsher consequences on students in an effort to increase student academic focus, and decrease social media use while at school.
The proposal, which will go into effect this fall if approved, would charge students money based on the number of offenses they have incurred. According to the proposal, cellphones, smartwatches, earbuds and other technical communication devices not related to school would not be allowed during the school day, although students could still bring their devices and keep them out of sight. When sponsors allow, students could also use them during extracurricular events such as athletics when leaving school.
If a student gets caught, for the first offense, the phone would be taken to the office and the student could pick it up at the end of the day for a $5 fee. For a second offense, a parent would have to pick it up and the fee would be $10. For a third offense, the parent would pay $20, or the student could choose to take two days of Saturday school instead. On the fourth offense, the phone would be turned over to the school resource officer and kept for a longer period of time. The officer would contact the parent or guardian, and may issue a ticket.
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The proposal notes that all monetary collections would go to the determined funding account of the administration, such as to student organizations or office funding. It also notes the elementary school may take a different approach as determined by administrators.
James Galarza, Mountain Pine High School principal, said Wednesday the board is tabling the proposal because it is considering making it an all-inclusive, K-12 policy, instead of having an exception for the elementary school.
"It does make sense, you kind of want a universal cellphone policy so whatever they learn at the elementary they can carry over to the high school," he said. "So we're going to look at kind of revamping that."
While the district's current policy, much like others in the county and across the state, prohibit the use of electronic devices other than those issued by the school like Chromebooks, he said the goal is to help students focus on academics and curb social media use, which often tie into bullying and harassment opportunities.
"Cellphones, I understand that it is the livelihood of everybody. I mean, we all have them attached to our hip and now kids, I'm sure as young as third (grade), are getting cellphones. So they're here to stay, and it's not one of those things where we're trying to get rid of cellphones," he said.
"They're never going away as far as I can tell. However, in an educational setting, after watching and kind of reaching out to other schools who are putting in no-cellphone policies, we're trying to figure out what is going to work best for us on limiting, if not getting rid of, the cellphones in the school."
For those students who are in an Individualized Education Program, or a 504 Plan due to a disability, they would still be allowed, Galarza said.
"There's different things that we're looking at, but when people just hear the phrase 'no cellphone,' it really gets several parents and students, of course, concerned about not having it because they're so used to it," he said.
"But what I found out by looking at other school districts and talking to different people, social media in itself was almost impossible to control. When students go home and they're out of a school, and whether they're watched by their parents or not ... they do the social media."
Any conflict stemming from social media, he noted, carries over into school.
"The way I look at it is, when that stuff starts at home and then you bring it to school, then the school is losing out on the education that it's supposed to be providing, and instead we're having to discipline," he said.
Regarding the student's ability to learn, he said it is better for them to not even have the opportunity to take pictures of tests or use internet search engines to find answers.
"Instead of analyzing and really going into some deep thought about solving a problem, we all know that it's easy just to pick up a phone and Google an answer and just go from there," he said. "So their analytical thinking is lacking when it comes to having the access to their cellphones."
While Galarza does not believe a new policy will eliminate all problems, he said he does hope it will help students stay more focused and improve their critical thinking skills, while also improving the overall school environment.