LAFAYETTE, GA (WRCB)- In Walker County schools, the student cell phone policy has been updated with what administrators are calling "a dash of common sense." For years, Lafayette High was like many other schools: if you got caught with a cellphone during the school day, it was confiscated. In fact, in some area schools, they lock it up for two weeks. So when Walker County's School Board relaxed its cell phone policy, students breathed a sigh of relief.
Senior Lani Watkins said, "I was honestly surprised. I had never heard of a school allowing cell phones, but I'm glad they trust us now. We don't just use it to text, we use it to look up information in class." She said, "It just seems like everyone is happier now."
There are still rules: phones are not to be used for socializing during instructional times, and some students have lost phone privileges for the day when they're caught bending the rules. Parents must pick up the phone after the school day, and can determine when they wish to return the phone to their child.
Principal Mike Culberson, an enthusiastic supporter of the change, said, "For the most part, the students have stepped up and done what we've asked them to do. Some students have tried to go too far, and some teachers haven't fully embraced it yet, but if this works well the first year, we'll keep doing it in the future."
Culberson explained that cell phone usage is something of a reward. If students do their work, make good grades and stay out of trouble, teachers are more apt to "cut them some slack" at the end of class if they've completed their assignment. As long as students are not interfering with teaching and learning, they're allowed to silently text, do online research and check their messages. "But if they're not following the rules, and they're causing a distraction," Culberson said, "we'll take up the phone and keep it until the parent picks it up. Usually after that happens once, a student won't let it happen again."
Senior Laurabeth Pettigrew says under the old rules, the school would give students an inch, and they would try to take a mile. "People would sneak around, hide it in their hoodie, go to a bathroom stall, text through their pockets. Now nobody has to do that. It seems like now that the school supports us, kids probably don't use their phones as much. We're children, and we need rules. We're grateful they let us have this privilege, and we don't abuse it."
Construction teacher Jesse Norris is among many faculty memebers who now embrace phones and other personal electronic devices in his class. He says, "Students have them, they use them all the time, so they might as well put them to good use."
Watkins, who is one of Norris' students, said, "We're learning about different tools, so we can go to YouTube and watch a video about power tools and learn the proper procedure, right there in class."
Between classes, and during lunch, Lafayette High encourages students to communicate with their families, for convenience and safety reasons.
Senior Chase Horne said, "Your mom wants to know if you'll be early or late, or hungry, so we can talk during the day. In the past you'd have to wait until after school, go to the office, stand in line and call your parents."
School officials say they'll judge the success of the new program after this year..but so far, the early results are favorable. Culberson said, " I would hope that more administrators would look at the challenges and move in a drection that would allow students to embrace technology. This is where we're going. They'll be grownups soon, and they'll use their cellphones throughout the day."