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School Board is updating policy on high-tech devices

March 14, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - When students' cell phones ring in class or a sly glance is stolen from textbook to text message, not everyone is LOL.

That's laughing out loud, but Washington County Public Schools officials would like students to learn a new acronym - L8R. The phone calls can wait for now.

The Washington County Board of Education will hear the second reading of an updated policy dealing with the use of cell phones, the Internet, computers, personal digital assistants and other communication devices during its regular board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Central Office on Commonwealth Avenue.

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"I think cell phones are fine and for safety are highly valuable, but I think it's disruptive when students are text messaging and using their cell phones during the day," board member Roxanne Ober said Friday.

Items listed under the category "additional guidelines for PDAs, cell phones and other personal communication devices" inspired boisterous discussion at a board meeting March 1, when members approved the policies on first reading.

The policies stipulate staff and student cell phones and pagers be kept off, and photography with cell phones is prohibited. Internet access, which is provided through some mobile phone carriers, is limited to school machines to protect users from inappropriate content.

The policy also includes provisions for employee reimbursement of personal calls made on school system phones.

Cell phones are supposed to be kept out of sight at facilities such as North Hagerstown High School, but they are hardly out of mind.

Students said they use the phones to call their parents and arrange for rides after school, and they pointed out they've even heard teachers' phones ring.

"I think it would be stupid to ban them from school," said 16-year-old Christine Wason, a North High junior who used her cell phone Thursday to ask her father about the status of soccer practice.

Ober noted the policy provides guidelines for students and staff, including personnel who use school system equipment.

"I think we always need to be fiscally responsible. I think we have a fiduciary responsibility. I think we have to foresee problems that may not exist now," Ober said.

According to a school system spokesperson, 309 school employees use school system cell phones at a cost of about $12.27 a phone per month. The system employs more than 2,500 people.

Technology Specialist Richard Baldasarre said the new policies represent an attempt to create "a comprehensive document" that addresses available technologies. Baldasarre observed the policy was last updated in 2000 - before a "whole explosion of cell phone usage."

Josh Hornbaker, 17, admits he couldn't resist taking a call at school from an important someone: his girlfriend.

"She was in lunch, and I was in class," Hornbaker said. "I asked to go to the bathroom, and I called from the bathroom."

Like many North High students, Hornbaker said he frequently uses more minutes than his cell phone plan provides.

Across the cafeteria from where Hornbaker was eating Thursday, one sophomore boy sneaked a peek at his own cell phone before jamming it back into the hip pocket of his baggy jeans and pulling out a second flip-top mobile.

Principal Robert "Bo" Myers knows the high-tech distractions are here to stay, and like most administrators, he acknowledged cell phones' flip side - the county, he said, gave them its blessing after incidents such as the Columbine High School and Beltway shootings.

Myers called cell phone interruptions "a pain," and he likened them to the inappropriate T-shirts he sometimes sees in the halls. Students displaying logos of beer companies are told to change; students with cell phones are told to hand over their mobiles and bid them farewell.

"We've tried to do the same with cell phones," Myers said, "because it's permeated all of our lives to the point where it's almost bizarre."

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