Warren County High School students who use their cellphone during school to send text messages need to understand those messages can be retrieved if needed. Just because it was deleted from the phone does not mean it cannot be found. Not only can the FBI retrieve messages, but so can the Warren County School System.
Director of Schools Bobby Cox informed members of the School Board, “One of the projects we will have to do next year is the wireless revamp in the high school. Our Internet system is firewalled from ENA who is our provider. It is also firewalled here before it even gets to the schools. Students need to understand the signal comes in and we are able to track it. If something is going on that we don’t approve of or we don’t see, we can track that back to where it came from.”
School Board chairman Bill Zechman said, “My only concern is the students are on notice that we can, on reasonable suspicion, review their records and the entire contents of their messages.”
Warren County High School executive principal Tony Cassel said, “It will be updated in our handbook to reflect if this policy is approved. For the last two years, if we’ve had issues in the school where we felt the need to potentially review somebody’s phone records is called for, I’ve spoken to school attorney Robin Phillips on numerous occasions on when that is appropriate.”
The discussion came during a School Board meeting where Phillips told the board wording on the personal cellphone policy is being changed for the 2013-14 school year.
“Basically, we’ve added some language in here for devices that might not be specifically covered as a personal communication device, i.e. a phone. Occasionally, we do have teachers who do want to allow these devices to come into the school. We want to make sure they are regulated if they are coming in. There are bandwidth issues and issues where students could try to and maybe successfully get around some of our protection and filters. Also, that could cause some problems for our Internet connection. This allows us to say this is a privilege to bring this to school. They have to conform to the rules in order to do that. I spoke to Tony Cassel and I think they want to have more flexibility in how they discipline for this. We are going to take out the $20 fine and that they confiscate the phone for seven days and allow that to be at the principal’s discretion,” said Phillips.
“Right now, this is only an issue for the high school which means it would only be for the executive principal, Mr. Cassel, to decide,” Phillips continued. “But, we do have also in this policy that some middle school students can be allowed to use these devices with permission by the principal. So, we want to be able to make that work.”
Cassel said WCHS officials want to use the school handbook to lay out steps for violations related to improper cellphone use such as students filming things or texting in the halls.
School Board member Scott Holmes said, “I hate to know that you spend eight hours a week worrying about cellphone problems.”
Cassel said, “We don’t. The reality is this, I’ve said this to Mr. Cox before, we can say, ‘No cellphones allowed in school,’ and out of 1,800 kids, 1,400 will have one in their pocket on any given day. So, it’s trying to find that effective happy medium. I had teachers who would let kids call their parents to see if they could stay after school for tutoring. We have events where weather pours in at the last minute and things get canceled. Again, with teacher permission ... not a free-for-all. We are just trying to shore up our policy a little more.”
Holmes said, “I just don’t want to take away from trying to educate with trying to chase around cellphones.”
Cassel said, “It’s like any violation. If you see a dress code violation, you address it. If you see a cellphone violation, you address it.”
Lines 22-24 of the cellphone policy states, “Device or listening device is not a violation of this policy for students in grades 9 through 12 if the phone or device is kept off and concealed and out of sight in a purse, pocket, bookbag, locker or automobile and is not in use during the regular school day.”
Cox said, “They’ve got times when they can use it. They’ve got times when they can’t use it. As long as we enforce the policy effectively.”
Jeff Lee said, “Are we going to let the principal’s at all the elementary schools do this? I mean, we are fooling ourselves if we don’t think sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are using them.”
Phillips said, “Elementary and middle school students are not permitted to posses except as specifically permitted by the principal.”
Cox said those principals will be permitted to use their discretion concerning cellphone use during the school day.
Added Phillips, “One thing that we have kept in here is the camera use. That is never allowed. Any time a camera is being used, that needs to be addressed.”