Schools take different approaches to smartphones

By Wayne Bryan Published August 21, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Seniors from Arkadelphia High School hold up their cellphones during an assembly. The administration embraces the idea of technology in the classroom and allows students to use the phones during class.

The first day of school can be traumatic for kindergarten students left in the classroom by their teary-eyed parents for the first time, but it can also be an emotional experience for older students, as when teenagers have to part with their anchor, their link to reality, their most intimate partner — their smartphone.

As the technology, society and even how subjects are taught in the classroom have changed over the past few years, personal cellphones in the classroom have gone from an unthinkable intrusion to a device that is unofficially required.

“It is kind of, sort of, required now,” said David Maxwell, principal at Arkadelphia High School. “Our school has moved toward a project-oriented model, and we have Wi-Fi and broadband collections, and to a large extent, we think of the cellphone as just another tool in the student’s toolbox.”

Maxwell said he and other school administrators have reviewed and adjusted the rules about phone use in school almost every year since he became principal in 2009.

In the Benton School District, school officials acknowledge that cellphones and other electronic devices can be useful.

“Benton High School realizes the impact technology can have on a student’s education,”

states the student handbook for this school year. “If used correctly, it can broaden a student’s ability to find and retrieve valuable information. As an educational tool, we welcome the opportunity to extend our students’ knowledge base by allowing cellphones in schools.”

Under the school’s rules, students can use their phones during class if specifically permitted by the classroom teacher, but otherwise, the handbook notes that “electronic devices must be put away in backpacks, lockers or on the right-hand corner of a student’s desk.”

The high schools in Arkadelphia, Benton, Bryant and Malvern all allow cellphone use in the classroom with the specific permission of the teacher, but each approach can be restrictive or encouraging.

“Before we had Internet connections throughout the school, we knew the best thing was to pull out a cellphone and look something up,” Maxwell said. “It’s a research device. It is all about using the phone in an appropriate time and place.”

This year, Arkadelphia teachers can grant students “licenses” to use their phones in class. Once permission is granted, students can use their phones in many ways.

“If the teacher has a handout, most students will just pull out their phone and take a picture of it,” Maxwell said. “The same if they see something on a bulletin board — the student will take a picture of it and keep going.”

In many classes at the high school, Arkadelphia students can video classwork on a project for a presentation or to share information within a student work group. That information exchange can also include emails and texts.

Maxwell said texting is one reason why Arkadelphia students are encouraged to carry their phones and have them on at all times.

“We exchange information through the day on Twitter, Facebook and by mass emails. If I put a memo out, the students know about it,” Maxwell said. “Also, I can text any kid in school. I can call one in by text and not have to use the public [address] speaker.”

In Malvern, using a phone with the permission of a teacher covers only that class; otherwise, according to the student handbook, “Students using or possessing … cellphones or other portable music devices after the first bell and before the last bell shall have them confiscated.”

In Benton, the handbook requires students to turn off electronic devices while students are in class.

In Bryant, the handbook states that when not permitted in the classroom, “cellphones and other devices must be kept on silent and stored out of sight or in a location designated by the teacher.”

The Bryant School District had the shortest student-handbook regulations on cellphone use. There are only three parts:

• Cellphone use is forbidden during class unless allowed by the teacher.

• Photographs or videos of other students and employees are forbidden, unless under the supervision of the teacher.

• Students who violate the rules can have their devices confiscated and could face suspension or expulsion.

Devin Sherrill, spokeswoman for the Bryant schools, said the policy has not changed for several years and that the schools have had a Bring Your Own Device policy for several years.

The Malvern and Benton phone regulations emphasize not using a phone to cheat, or to give or receive help during tests, especially during the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment and Accountability Program exams.

The Benton handbook is the only one among these schools that specifically prohibits using a phone or another device for cyberbullying or any other harassment of any student, faculty or staff member.

One thing all the school systems have is strong consequences for violations of school policies.

For a first offense in Malvern, a student can have his or her phone confiscated for three school days or spend a day in Saturday School. The fourth offense can mean having the phone held at school for 30 school days or the student receiving 10 days of in-school suspension.

In Benton, a first offense can be a day in Saturday School, and the fourth time, the consequences can be out-of-school suspension or expulsion. Any case of harassment or bullying with a phone or other device will carry a separate consequence.

In Arkadelphia, Maxwell said, he first changed the cellphone rules because they were harsh and counterproductive.

“When I first arrived, phones were banned,” Maxwell said. “I found out there had been 138 days of suspension handed out the year before because of in-school cellphone use. At that time, the school was not performing well, and I had been charged with figuring it out. Well, a lot of students were missing days from school, but I put in regulations that permitted the students to have their phones.”

Today, when an Arkadelphia student has a cellphone violation, the phone is taken from the student, and it must be picked up by a parent.

“The second time it happens, they can pick up the phone after they spend a day in Saturday School,” Maxwell said. “I might not have one of those for several weeks.”

For the third offense, Maxwell said, the phone can be turned over to the Clark County prosecutor after the school has filed a letter of concern about the student, and the parents can then meet with the prosecutor about getting the phone back.

Principal Maxwell said smartphones and other technology have become useful for both students and educators, and if the rules of good conduct are followed, he sees their use growing as tools for research that students will use long after they graduate from high school.

Staff member Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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