Schools cope with mobile phone use

“They’re in society. We’re going to have to deal with it.”

The sentiment expressed by Warren County School District Superintendent Dr. William Clark typifies how schools in Warren County the Warren County School District, Tidioute Community Charter School and Warren County Christian School have adapted to the use and possession of cell phones in schools.

Each of the schools is grappling with those issues in different ways.

“Mostly students are wanting to use phones all day so it is a real issue in school,” TCCS Chief Educational Officer Dr. Doug Allen said, estimating that 90 percent of the school’s students in grade 6 through 12 have cell phones. “Students are asked to not text or take photos during the day, but controlling usage of phones is a daily task.”

WCCS Principal Richard Kolcharno said, “Our policy is our kids can only use them to and from school.”

In the WCSD, according to Clark, cell phone use is covered under the electronic devices policy but “(I’ve) felt (it) should be at the principal’s discretion for use and utilization. Since we’re so big, Youngsville… forget it. (They) don’t have service in the building. At Warren High they do.”

While the principals have some discretion, Clark explained that cell phones are “not supposed to be out during class” but can be used during lunch, generally.

“Buildings have their own guidelines,” he said. “I think the way the district is currently approached it, we know they have them… (but I) want to be respectful of principals who don’t want them out in the lunch room. I’m receptive.”

With different approaches to phone use, each of the schools also approaches discipline for infractions differently.

“Basically, what I’ll do,” Kolcharno explained, is “take it away from the child (and they) can get it at the end of the day” for a first offense. For a second offense, “then parents can come and get it. That solves the problem. I have had that happen once in the nine years I have been here.”

TCCS has a policy that outlines the consequence for first up through fourth offenses, when “the student is banned from any use of communications devices for the remainder of the year.”

“It is a constant issue to control use of phones,” Allen noted. “Texts are sent daily under desks or in restrooms in schools so it is not possible to stop all usage.”

The WCSD does not have a specific discipline approach to those violations and that had caused issues.

“Where we’ve encountered problems is inconsistency in delving out discipline,” Clark said. “We need to clean that up.”

Allen and Kolcharno spoke about students possessing cell phones in case of emergency.

“In case of emergency, if they (students) have a problem come up, usually the kids come in and say ‘Can we use our cell phone?’ It works well that way.”

Allen acknowledged that “parents want kids to have phones today for safety and convenience reasons.”

As technology develops and grows less expensive, another aspect of cell phone use in schools is becoming a debated topic How should they be incorporated into the classroom?

Kolcharno said “we’ve talked a little bit about that” and that some teachers have “investigated that concept” but questioned whether there are really that many smartphones brought into WCCS.

“We are not yet at the point in which we use phones to teach lessons,” Allen said, but he noted, “We do use iPads to teach.”

As for the WCSD, “bring your own device is coming,” Clark said.

While he said that ensuring access for all students is still an issue, and that internet accessibility could result in students doing “some things they shouldn’t be,” he views a scenario where students who have their own devices bring them but students that don’t would be able to sign one out from the teacher.

Clark said such an initiative “would help the district” and explained that the topic is under consideration currently as the administration work on developing a technology plan that would include, among a host of items, updates to the district’s acceptable use and social media policies.

And the changes could come quickly.

“(I) would like to hammer that out, maybe next year springboard into it,” Clark said. He suggested that could include identifying teachers comfortable with the advanced technological options and developing pilot options for sometime during the 2014-2015 school year.

Clark said that would be a “way to test the waters. My thought is maybe we take some baby steps with it.”