ST. MARYS — Local high school students entered this school year with a new policy change that allows them to use their cell phones during the school day.
St. Marys Memorial High School students are allowed to keep their cell phones on during the day — during certain times of the day — which was a change in the school’s previous policy on cell phones and other wireless communication devices.
“Last year, students had to keep their cell phones in their locker or in their car,” Principal Dave Lewis said. “They were not allowed to have it on their person.”
The change went into effect when the policy was updated this summer.
“They can have the phones with them at all times throughout the day,” Lewis said. “They can use them for calls and for texts inbetween class periods in the hallway only or during lunch in the commons only.”
In the classroom, the cell phone policy depends on the teacher’s preference.
“Each teacher has a policy for their own classroom,” Lewis said. “For most teachers, the phone has to be silenced in their pocket or put away and silenced.”
During test time, he said, the policy may differ.
“Some teachers, such as during a test or exam, will have students silence their phones and then place them on the teacher’s desk or silenced and placed face down on the students’ desks,” Lewis said.
There are also restrictions on the cell phone use in other parts of the school.
“The students are not to use their phones for any purpose in the rest rooms,” Lewis said. “They also cannot take pictures, and they cannot take audio or video recordings at any time.”
Because of the policy change, Lewis noted there was also an amendment to the punishment if a student violates the rules.
“By changing the policy and giving this to the students, we made the punishment for inappropriate use harsher,” he said. “If we come along and the student is using his or her phone in inappropriate ways, the punishment will be stricter. Inappropriate use in a classroom could be if a student has his or her phone out and is texting or if the phone makes noise.”
The following is the discipline for a student who is caught using his or her phone inappropriately: a first offense results in one day of in-school suspension, a second offense results in one Saturday school, a third offense results in one day of out-of-school suspension and a fourth offense results in out-of-school suspension with a recommendation for expulsion.
“We want to embrace the technology,” Lewis said. “All students have cell phones, and it’s very hard to police.”
For the 2010-11 school year, the school had 160 office referrals for cell phone use — something that has drastically decreased with the new policy for this school year.
“So far it’s been great,” Lewis said. “It’s teaching them responsible use and embracing the technology usage at their disposal.”
The policy will also come into play with a pilot program the school will be starting the next nine weeks — the Bring Your Own Technology program.
“With budget cuts and not being able to spend money on new computers, and by having a wireless network in the building, this was developed,” Lewis said. “With the program, the students are going to be able to use their technology in select teachers’ classrooms for educational purposes.”
As part of the BYOT program, Lewis noted the students will still be disciplined if they are not using the technology responsibly.
“The students can only have them out and be using them for the purpose the teachers describe,” he said. “Everything is still blocked — it will go through the same filters as everything else we have.”
The change in the cell phone policy, Lewis noted, has been widely embraced by both the students and the teachers.
“I’ve really been pleased with it,” he said. “The students have been responsible — they’ve really done a good job with it so far. The teachers have embraced it, too. It was something that was coming, and we weren’t going to be able to avoid it.”
Although Lewis noted the program is a first for the area, it has been enabled in other school districts in the state. He noted he spoke with an official with the Kettering-Fairmont district, who said it was working wonderfully for their district.
“He said it really shutdown a lot of their discipline,” Lewis said.
For a group of students, the policy is accepted with varying opinions.
“I think it’s kind of pointless because there’s nothing really important to talk about during school,” junior Ali Rockwood said. “I didn’t use my cell phone.”
Junior Jamison Vogel said the policy is usable in emergency situations.
“I like it because it’s convenient,” he said. “If i need something at home, I can just send a text to somebody.”
Senior Rachel Geeslin agreed with Vogel in that the policy is beneficial in emergency situations, and that other things, such as texting a friend, could wait until after school ends.
“I think it’s a good idea, but for emergencies only,” she said.