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Oak Harbor school board adopts latest cell phone search policy

After almost exactly four months of contemplation and re-writes, the Oak Harbor School Board unanimously voted to adopt the latest version of the Washington State School Directors Association’s recommended cell phone and electronic devices policy.

The policy will let school administrators confiscate and search a student’s cell phone if they have a reasonable suspicion, based on objective and articulable facts, that such a search will reveal a violation of school rules.

The policy was written to help districts crack down on cyberbullying and sexting, which have become more prevalent in recent years.

“Every student should be able to go to school and feel good about their education, and anything we do that keeps a lid on another student’s ability to disrupt that is important,” board member Dave McCool said.

The board members agree that the point of the policy isn’t to serve as a means to peek into students’ personal lives, but rather as a reminder to students that bullying and sexting are serious issues.

Board member Corey Johnson said he hopes the policy will educate students about the dangers of those behaviors and help them to realize that actions made jokingly could still be considered criminal acts.

“I know kids 16, 17, 18 years old don’t always use the best judgement,” he said. “They don’t realize what they’re doing. They don’t realize they’re not invincible,” Johnson said at last week’s board meeting.

The new cell phone policy is just one piece of an anti-bullying campaign started by the school district. In the coming weeks the students will begin discussing the dangers of bullying and harassment in their advisory classes and the lessons will continue throughout the year. An educational PowerPoint put together by the Oak Harbor Police Department on the issue, is also scheduled to be shown to the students.

Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon said now that the policy is approved, the district’s next step will be to hold a meeting between administrators and police department officials to make sure everyone is on the same page with the procedure. If it is believed a search of a student’s phone will reveal an image, like a pornographic depiction of a minor, or something else that would violate a law, the investigation is supposed to be turned over to law enforcement.

“We’ll be ... making sure that the officers and detectives that respond are also consistent and understand our policy and what their role is as well,” Gibbon said.

The final version of the policy, along with the anti-bullying PowerPoint, a list of frequently asked questions and other helpful parent information can be found on the school district’s website at www.ohsd.net under the yellow “School Board/Policies” tab.

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