School board tweaks cellphone policy

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Board trustees Tom Hearn, Lisa May, and Dave Eubanks listen to public comment on the Coeur d’Alene School District’s cell phone policy Monday night. (Judd Wilson/PRESS)

COEUR d’ALENE — The Coeur d’Alene School Board finalized its policy Monday night prohibiting most students from using cellphones during school hours, but expanded it to allow high schoolers to check their devices between classes. Policy 3265P, governing the district’s “Bring Your Own Device” program requires students in the Coeur d’Alene School District to turn off their personal electronic devices during school hours, and keep them “off their person” such as in a backpack or locker, during class and between classes.

Many claimed Monday night that the policy will be a burden to teachers, parents, and students, and the board adjusted its implentation in response.

Speaking of high school students, Coeur d’Alene Education Association President Bruce Twitchell said, “I firmly believe their ability to check phones between classes is a must.” Also, requiring teachers to enforce a no-phones policy between classes would add yet another burden to the teachers’ backs, said Twitchell. Coeur d’Alene High School Principal Troy Schueller agreed.

“We do not have the manpower to not allow kids the opportunity to check their phones at least throughout the day. I am not asking to have cellphones in the classroom, not at all. I am asking for kids to have the opportunity to check their cellphones at an appropriate time in passing period, or lunch.”

He explained that when he joined the school district 10 years ago and had to enforce a policy similar to the current proposal, it “was a nightmare.”

The policy gives middle school and high school principals discretion as to whether to allow students to use their devices during lunch. Students in grades K-5 are totally forbidden to use them during school hours, including during lunch. Exceptions will be made for students with documented disabilities.

Lake City High School Principal Deanne Clifford said she trusted her students to use their cellphones responsibly and would give them permission to use their personal electronic devices during the lunch period.

“I believe there is a difference between a fifth-grader and a 12th-grader,” she said. She also explained that in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting both parents and students felt reassured being connected throughout the day.

Coeur d’Alene High School junior Sophie Konrath told the board that students need access to their cellphones during the day to deal with after-school jobs. She added that she didn’t see why the district would re-enact a policy that proved unenforceable in the past.

According to the policy, teachers may allow personal devices to be used during class for educational purposes, but requires teachers to “consistently circulate the classrom and/or school building and monitor student use of PEDs.” Violations of the policy will incur penalties ranging from a warning for the first offense to detention, a parent-administrator conference, and loss of student participation in the BYOD program for the remainder of the school year, for the fifth offense. The policy also gives all students permission to use them before and after school hours. During board discussion, trustees Lisa May, Tom Hearn, and Dave Eubanks ventured into whether students should be able to have cellphones in their pockets, but board chairman Casey Morrisroe steered them away from the topic, noting that the item was not up for discussion at the Monday meeting. Only implementation of the policy was on the agenda, he said.

In response to educators and students who spoke about the needs of high school students, Eubanks made a motion to amend the policy to allow high schoolers to use their personal electronic devices during passing periods, at the discretion of their principals. Hearn seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

The policy also states that “no expectation of confidentiality” applies to personal electronic devices on school property, that possession of such devices on school grounds is a privilege and not a right, and that students will not be allowed to charge devices while at school. Students are forbidden to record anyone else on school grounds without the subject’s express permission.

The district created a similarly strict no-usage policy for personal electronic devices during school hours in 2008, but relaxed that policy in 2011 due to a shortage of devices available for student use for educational purposes. Morrisroe, Hearn and Eubanks voted Feb. 5 to revise the policy, which had been last updated in 2015, against the protests of fellow trustees May and Tambra Pickford.

A spokesman for the school district said the revisions approved Monday will take effect immediately.

Earlier in the meeting, interim superintendent Dr. Stanley Olson said the school district planned on making the March 14 student walkouts “a meaningful, positive, learning experience” in civics. He explained the district aimed to give student protesters time to peacefully express their views, with the stipulation that law enforcement would be on hand to firmly handle “disorderly conduct that disrupts school operations.” Students would be expected to return to class following the walkouts, and absences would be noted for students who do not return to class. Non-students are asked to refrain from participating in the walkouts, he added.

On the subject of school safety, Twitchell said the answer to school shootings was more state funding to hire professional counselors and teachers. Educators that get to know their students would be able to recognize the early warning signs of students in crisis, explained the teacher’s union leader. “Education is national security,” he said.

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