When: Lancaster School District School Board Meeting, September 6.
What happened: Several council members and some parents have expressed concern over the district’s recent decision to enforce a policy banning middle school students’ cell phones and headphones and now regulating their use at JP McCaskey High School. McCaskey students can primarily use their phones during changeover times between classes and at lunch. Previously, school staff could decide how each campus would handle student phones.
Discussion: “It has a big impact on the community,” said board member David Parry, explaining why he wanted to raise the issue at the school board meeting. He and his colleague Jennifer Eaton said they have received comments from parents concerned about contacting their children in the event of an emergency or violence at school. “I really don’t have a solid answer” to that concern, said Chris Lopez, who directs student services for the district. Cell phones often disrupt learning, he said, adding that in some cases students have used phones to coordinate fights. Administrators and secondary directors met over the summer and strongly urged enforcement of the rule, he said.
Emergency room : Lopez asked parents to call their child’s school in the event of an emergency and said the district will continue to communicate with families electronically, through social media and by phone.
More information: Lopez said the district didn’t receive much negative feedback from an Aug. 17 letter to school families that outlined the new enforcement guidelines. Two people sent emails applauding the policy while another mentioned wanting a phone connection to a student, said district spokesman Adam Aurand.
Background: Policy 237, first adopted in 2009, prohibits the unauthorized use of electronic equipment, including CD players, radios, and portable game consoles, among others. A 2015 revision includes cell phones, laptops, and all devices created in the future.
The plan: Starting this school year, colleges collect cell phones at the start of the day or ask students to put their mobile devices in their lockers. Some schools already did this last year, but the practice is now mandatory on all college campuses. McCaskey students have more freedom. Students can take their phones with them, but unless a teacher asks students to use their phones for a lesson, these phones must remain hidden during class.
Consequences: Penalties range from warnings for first offenses to loss of a cell phone for a class period or an entire day. Parents may also be required to come to school.
Reaction: Board member Ramon Escudero called it “extreme” for students to keep their phones in lockers. Luis Morales noted that students can bring their phones to class and said he was concerned about threatening students’ maturity. “We’re supposed to treat them like adults,” Morales said. Parry counted aloud the number of cell phones the board members had pulled out during the meeting. “On our side of the table we have three cell phones out,” he said, pointing to himself and the other two council members seated in that row. Eaton, however, said she was fine with the policy’s enforcement. “It’s a good thing to have cell phones away.” Board Vice Chair Kareena Rios, Parry and Board Member Edith Gallagher called on directors to teach cell phone responsibility instead of taking the phones purely as a disciplinary measure.
Quoteable: “Responsible adulting means learning to use these things,” Parry said.
Next steps: Board members said they wanted more information and asked Acting Superintendent Matt Przywara to collect data on the number of cellphones confiscated this semester.
Next: The school council will meet at 6:30 p.m. on September 13. The public can view the meetings and register to comment on the district’s website.