Coupeville loosens up student cell phone rules

The cell phone policy that caused nearly four months of grief for the Oak Harbor School District last fall was adopted by the Coupeville School Board this week, which previously had a more restrictive policy.

The policy was developed and recommended by the Washington State School Directors Association last summer and allows school administrators to 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.

When the policy was first introduced in Oak Harbor last August, it garnered regional media attention from newspapers and broadcasting stations. The school board went through months of re-writes and consultations with a School Directors Association attorney and the American Civil Liberties Union before finally adopting it to ensure that students’ privacy rights were not being violated.

“This (policy) has been a bugaboo for some districts,” Superintendent Patty Page said, “but this is a cleaned-up version from WSSDA. It’s not their first attempt.”

In Coupeville’s policy, language was added to allow the students to use their cell phones during passing periods as long as they weren’t being disruptive and were using the devices appropriately. The only other times the phones are allowed to be turned on is during lunch and before or after school. Additionally, at the urging of board member Carol Bishop, the language used to describe the illegal nature of sending and receiving inappropriate messages (like those depicting a minor in sexual situations) was strengthened. Bishop wanted to make sure that the students understood that such actions could come with criminal charges, not just school-related ramifications.

Page said the school district will likely have to revisit the policy soon to discuss whether or not cell phones should be allowed to be used during class times. Because technology is becoming such a big part of students’ lives, and because many phones are equipped with Internet access and educational tools, many administrators believe they may be able to aid in student learning.

The 2011-2012 handbook should notify students of the new policy. The previous rule for cell phones simply stated that they were prohibited at school and that students who carried them for safety reasons needed to have them turned off and in their backpacks.


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