A revised cell phone policy to be included in the 2023-24 Watson Chapel School District student handbook was approved during a brief special board meeting Monday evening.
A major change in the personal electronic device policy -- which does not apply to school-issued devices such as personal or laptop computers -- is that "red" and "green" zones, which determined whether cell phone use was allowed or banned, are now eliminated and cell phone use during school hours is strictly banned. Also, school administrators are asked to be more consistent in enforcing the policy, which officials say will help reduce the number of cyberbullying incidents and other threats of violence.
"It was hard to man the different zone," WCSD school improvement specialist Kerri McNeal said. "It became very difficult."
High school principal Henry Webb said he thought the updated policy might draw some pushback because students are used to cell phones. Instead, he said, the policy is "a plus" and "a breath of fresh air" because students can focus without distraction from the cell phones.
"A lot of kids have been cyberbullied and we knew nothing about it," Webb said. "They've been in fear because somebody told them something, and now they're looking down at their phones – 'Ooh, I'm going to get you after class.' ... Cyberbullying is real, 24-hours-a-day bullying."
Students in all grade levels are strongly encouraged not to bring cell phones to campus, McNeal said. Any student caught using a cell phone during school hours will have the device confiscated and parents will be contacted to retrieve the device, according to the new policy.
LEVELS OF DISCIPLINE
Junior high and high school students (grades 6-12) face levels of discipline for violation of the policy, which defines "general use" of a device as "any use of or communication with a phone or other electronic device or having the phone out visible," and "punitive use" as any such use which "disrupts the learning environment or harms another student or person."
The levels of discipline for general use are:
First offense: Warning to put the device away.
Second offense: The student will be asked to surrender the device until the end of the class period, and parents will be notified.
Third offense: The student will be asked to surrender the device and the parent/guardian must come to the school to pick up the device the day of the offense.
Fourth offense: The student will be asked to surrender the device and the parent/guardian must come to the school to pick up the device the third day after the offense.
Fifth offense: If the student is found in violation five or more times in the same semester, the student will have the device confiscated and lose the privilege of possessing the device for a nine-week period. Any student found to have a device during the period will face Level II consequences and having the device confiscated for the remaining nine-week period.
In the second through fifth offenses, if the student refuses, a campus supervisor or administrator will be called to assist, the student will be taken to the office, and the device will be returned to a parent or guardian only. The administrator will attempt to convince the student to give up the device, and if so, the device will go to a parent or guardian. If the student refuses after this or parent intervention, the student will face further discipline of a Level II offense.
If a student is found in violation for punitive use, the device will be confiscated and the student will lose the privilege of possessing the device for a nine-week period. Depending on the severity of the violation and student code of conduct, the student may face Level III discipline up to and including expulsion. If during the nine-week period for a punitive offense a student is found with a device, he or she will face a punitive phase of Level III consequences and have the phone confiscated for the remaining school year.
District Superintendent Tom Wilson said while parents tend to feel safe when a student has a cell phone with them, maintaining instruction time is important in hopes of improving state test scores.
"The only way we can do it is with cooperation, and we want the parents to support this because they are going to be allowed to have the cell phones with them. They just can't use it during the day," Wilson said.
The WCSD accepted a letter of resignation from paraprofessional Katrina Harroway, and hired Ora Reynolds as dean of students and LaTonia Roberts as secretary, both at Coleman Elementary.
The White Hall School District also met in a special meeting Monday to approve district transfers for students.
Among the WHSD personnel moves:
Sydney Adair was hired as middle school EAST teacher.
Allison Hayes is transferring from middle school EAST teacher to fifth-grade teacher at Gandy Elementary.
Raven Savage was hired as high school alternative learning experience paraprofessional, and Jennifer Thyen was hired as high school special education paraprofessional.
Gail Echols at Gandy Elementary, Alicia Mizell and Kimberly Lambert at the middle school will receive stipends for LEADS.