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Cell phone debate returns with students

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County School Board will debate students’ cell phone privileges this fall.

While the debate is nothing new (the board discussed cell phone use in 2007, 2006 and 2001), this year a survey indicates that 74 percent of parents and teachers want to ban them altogether. About 80 percent of the 428 people surveyed said they would support a ban.

Board member Benny Elliott said he wants a new cell phone policy to get the “rampant use of cell phones out of schools.”

Kelly Kelley, the district risk manager, organized a district committee to discuss cell phones in May. She said Elliott, two parents, three administrators, three staff members and a school resource officer met twice over the summer to discuss possible policy changes. They also wrote the survey.

Committee members said the district’s cell phone rules need revision, Kelley said.

“We’ve got a policy, but there are no teeth in it,” Elliott said. “There are no specifics.”

The current policy allows students to take cell phones and pagers into school if they are turned off and out of sight.

Principals and police have authority to confiscate a phone or pager until the end of the semester or until a parent submits a written request for its return. If the confiscated phone is lost or damaged, the district is not liable.

“If we set a policy and the principals don’t follow it, then we’ll let Dr. Dozier handle it,” he said.

Superintendant Randy Dozier said the current rules are fine.

“We just need to enforce them,” he said. “We have to be consistent.”

At the same time, Dozier and board members recognized that making rules about cell phone use is controversial.

That’s why Kelley worried when she renewed the debate.

“So many people feel adamantly one way or another. It’s been hard coming up with a solution,” she said.

Board member Teresa Bennani said her two public school children have cell phones, but they have to follow house rules if they want to use them.

“It’s a great way of communication,” she said.

But it isn’t communication that Kelley worries about.

Using cell phones to cheat, bully, sext (sending sexually explicit texts and pictures) and deal drugs is what she wants to stop.

The school board instituted the current cell phone policy in January 2007.

Debate started in the fall of 2006 before the board voted the final time on the policy.

Kelley said she would bring the board more information at the Aug. 18 meeting.

While the district considers its cell phone policy, it is giving iPods to Andrews and Georgetown high schools students.

They’ll use them to upload lectures, audio books or podcasts. The material will add to the traditional curriculum.

When the board mentioned the iPods, Bennani pumped her fist in the air.

Dozier said Waccamaw High School may get iPods later this school year.

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