Hillsborough County School District officials are shaping new cell phone rules likely to ignite some fiery text messages among students.
Not only would students be required to keep their phones turned off at school -- the current rule -- they would also have to keep them out of sight.
If a student violator is caught, a sequence of punishments from a warning to suspension is proposed.
"If you can't have a cell phone on, there is no reason to have it out," said Lewis Brinson, the district's assistant superintendent for administration.
Brinson is drafting new cell phone procedures for the 2008-09 school year, to be presented at the May 20 school board meeting. The rules are a consensus from a committee of teachers, students, parents and principals, he said, but still must be vetted by the superintendent before they reach the board for a vote.
Cell phone use has exploded among students at all grade levels. They hide phones in purses or pockets and text friends in class, make calls or text from hallways and bathrooms between classes, or openly answer phones in class, especially when parents call. Test pages and answers can be photographed and shared, and video or pictures posted on the Internet.
Schools and individual teachers vary in how and whether they enforce Hillsborough's rule that cell phones "shall not be activated or used in any manner during school hours," including on silent, vibrate or visual-only mode. Some teachers say they just don't have the time to both police cell phone use and teach.
"We're trying to be more consistent," Brinson said.
Progress Village Middle Magnet School Principal Walt Shaffner can attest to the misuse, despite his school's rule: "If it's on, we take it away."
In his school of 850 students, "We have confiscated 80 to 100 so far this year," he said. "We have 30 or more cells alone from last year that were never picked up."
Shaffner was on the committee that came up with the proposed procedures. He said he agrees because of both the increased misuse and increased capability of phones.
"A phone has become a complicated and sophisticated tool that's kind of being used as a toy," he said. At the same time, "cell phones have gone from a privilege to an entitlement," Shaffner said.
Practicalities need to be worked out, Brinson acknowledged.
One is keeping track of violations. They could be recorded like tardies, he said, with teachers noting it in their computer.
"We don't want the cell phone situation to get into an argument," Brinson said. The intent, he said, is to stop disruptions to teaching, "not to patrol the bathrooms," looking for phones.
Many student government leaders were asked in March for suggestions to change cell phone rules. Many proposed allowing cells to be used during lunch.
Jarrod Barefoot, a senior at Newsome High, had suggested requiring students to leave phones out on their desks. He said the district's proposed changes don't sound much different than the way it is now, except for uniform consequences.
Recently, Newsome tightened its phone policy, Barefoot said. Most teachers send students to detention for a first offense, with in-school suspension the second time. Phones are usually confiscated only if used during a test, Barefoot said, because parents are so upset when they must retrieve them at the office.
"I think it's worked a lot better," he said. "I admit I don't talk often after worrying about getting detention or suspension."
Brinson said tougher rules could be enforced, then relaxed, depending on how students respond.
"If we follow through with what we say we're going to do, they'll realize we're serious about it," he said. "Right now we need to get a grip on letting students understand when we say off, we mean off."
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