CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- After years of debate and more than a few complaints, Hamilton County School Board members and central office administrators agree: it's time to update the school district's cell phone policy.
For the past several years, students risked losing their cell phone for two weeks if they were caught with it in the classroom. The rule was originally intended to cut back on talking, texting, and otherwise distracting from classroom activities.
But as Superintendent Rick Smith noted recently in a School Board retreat, "Times are changing." Holding up his smartphone, Smith said, "Almost everybody has one of these, or about they're about to get one. And schools around the country are realizing they can be educational tools if used properly."
District 3 Board member Greg Martin, an outspoken critic of the current policy, said "What we are doing now is just wrong. Taking a student's phone away for two weeks on a first offense is the wrong punishment. Sure, we need to punish students who are using them inappropriately, or disturbing others, but not this way."
Martin and Board chair Mike Evatt agreed that phones and other personal devices have evolved tremendously since the Board policy on phone confiscation was first approved. Evatt said, "I wouldn't want my child without a phone in case of emergency. It's a different world than it was a few years ago."
Superintendent Smith pointed out that standardized testing will shift to an online format in 2014. "We can't fight technology, that's where everything is going. Students use their smartphones and iPads for research and information, just like adults do. School districts are having to adjust, and find the right balance."
Martin said he plans to bring up the issue in the next few weeks. "I'm not saying students won't have a penalty if they misuse and abuse their privileges. But it's time to update our thinking on cell phones and other personal devices and use common sense. I don't think principals want to be responsible for keeping up with a bunch of phones locked up somewhere."
Martin, who is on the Board's Technology Committee, says he will push for changes to the district's policy to go into effect as soon as next year.
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