New rules govern students’ cell phone use

The Wicomico County Public School system is taking key steps this summer to become a digital leader in the use of technology for learning in the classroom.

The Wicomico County Board of Education recently updated its Acceptable Use of Technology Policy.

The policy now allows for the use of student personal electronic devices such as cell phones and tablets for instruction in secondary classrooms, at the discretion of the teacher. Student cell phones and tablets will not be used in elementary classrooms, but parents may seek permission from the principal for their elementary student to carry a cell phone to and from school as a tool for student safety.

The Board of Education approved the revised policy at its July 2014 meeting, and the new guidelines took effect immediately for the 2014-2015 school year. Board members will evaluate the success of the new policy – including its “Bring Your Own Device” provision for middle and high school students – in spring 2015.

The board hopes that as instruction is enhanced under the new policy, discipline issues related to cell phone use in schools will be decreased. Secondary administrators and teachers have been spending hundreds of hours on cell phone referrals, most of which will not occur under the new rules.

Students are also expected to lose less class time due to referrals for cell phone possession and use.

A one-page sheet of “dos and don’ts” for students will be available online and in schools in August. All secondary teachers will receive staff development on the new guidelines for use of student technology in the classroom.

On Monday, Aug. 11, Wicomico Schools will host a presentation by high school principal and author Eric Sheninger on “Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.”

This award-winning principal of New Milford High School in Bergen County, N.J., will share what it was like to move a school beyond concerns about classroom technology and social media to the discovery of how the tools of technology could enhance learning and engagement for students, families and the community.

The presentation is free and open to the public, and will take place at the James M. Bennett Auditorium from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Aug. 11.

The board last revised its Acceptable Use of Technology Policy in 2008, and revisited it this year in recognition of the expanding ways in which technology could be leveraged to improve instruction, business operations, and communications.

In a survey of principals and teachers, a majority of secondary principals and teachers favored using student mobile devices in the classroom for instruction. Half of elementary teachers and slightly less than half of elementary principals favored mobile devices for elementary students.

Among the provisions of the policy:

  • Student-owned cell phones, smartphones, personal tablet computers and other devices may be carried on silent mode in middle and high school, and may be used in some areas of the facility (such as hallways and the cafeteria, for example) at the discretion of the building administration, as long as the use of the device is not disruptive to the school environment.
  • Once written parental consent has been obtained, middle and high school students may use their personal electronic devices in the classroom at the discretion and direction of the teacher. Devices must be kept in silent mode at all times to avoid disruptions.
  • Devices may not be used and must be turned off in secondary schools’ building areas of privacy: nurse’s office, locker rooms, restrooms. Video and/or photography with cell phones or other devices of inappropriate situations (such as fights) is not permitted, and audio recording of another person requires that person’s permission prior to recording, in accordance with Maryland law.
  • As in the previous policy, student cell phones are not to be used in elementary school classrooms and may not be in a student’s possession during the school day. However, a parent may obtain approval from the school principal for their child to carry a cell phone to and from school for safety reasons. (The phone must be kept in silent mode during the school day.) This change is in awareness of the importance to parents and students of cell phone availability for student safety.
  • Student-owned devices may not use the WCBOE network.
  • WCBOE is not responsible for loss or damage to personal electronic devices.
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