Baton Rouge Schools Rethink Ban on Cellphones in Classrooms

With fewer students following the policy, more schools are relaxing rules on cellphones.

by Terry L Jones, The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. / April 3, 2017 0
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(The Advocate) -- A recent report on disciplinary issues in Pointe Coupee Parish schools put a spotlight on a vexing problem for many schools throughout the region: cellphones in classrooms.

The Pointe Coupee report reveals about 20 percent of the disciplinary referrals teachers have written this year at the parish's lone high school had to do with cellphone violations.

The district is one of a shrinking number still banning the devices on school grounds. Schools Superintendent Kevin Lemoine said officials have come to recognize that kids are not going to follow the policy, given how ingrained cellphones have become in their day-to-day lives, and are adjusting their approach accordingly.

"So, we're not going to sit here and be the cellphone police," he said. "The common practice is: If a teacher sees a cellphone they will either ask the child to put it away or demand they turn it over."

"But teachers will not go looking through book bags for them," Lemoine added.

Much of the debate over whether students should be allowed to bring cellphones to school has shifted over time.

Many local districts have relaxed their restrictions and others have tossed out bans despite lingering concerns students might use the devices to cheat on tests or bully classmates.

Schools districts that are more tech-savvy in the Baton Rouge region give their students more leeway in bringing electronic devices to school.

The debate was initially driven by parents who argued they were a convenient way to stay in touch with their kids in case of an emergency, like a school shooting.

Ken Trump, president of Cleveland-based consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services, in 2012 challenged that argument by saying cellphones become more of a distraction during the hypothetical scenarios.

"In a real emergency, students using cell phones accelerates rumors, expedites parental flocking to the school, and in turn makes managing an emergency more difficult for school officials," Trump wrote in the 2012 blog post on the organization's website.

Although he still believes that, Trump said in an interview that his views on allowing students to have cellphones at school have changed over time.

That’s partly because he recognizes how cellphones can be effective in class instruction. Also, technology is so advanced now that it has become increasingly difficult to ban the devices almost anywhere, he said.

"We have kids walking around in school today with Apple watches. What's the point in banning them when they find other ways to facilitate communication with the outside world from school?" Trump said.

Many districts — like East Baton Rouge, Central, Ascension and West Baton Rouge — allow students to bring cellphones to school but require they be turned off and/or kept out of sight from teachers, faculty and staff.

And in those districts where technology is infused into the class curriculum, districts let teachers and principals decide when, where and how students can use their smartphones during school hours.

"It's essentially a computer in your hand that you can make a call on," said Warren Drake, schools superintendent for East Baton Rouge Parish. "Each principal will judge how (cellphones) will be used, either for research or technological purposes in the classroom."

"But some principals don't want them on campus at all," Drake added.

Disciplinary actions related to cellphone violations tend to be minor infractions in every school district — akin to dress code violations.

Iberville Parish is one of the only parishes in the region to encourage its students to bring cellphones to school. However, they ask that the cellphones be turned off and not used unless OK'd by a teacher or faculty member as well.

"We don't want to be so restrictive that we're antiquated," said Arthur Joffrion, schools superintendent for Iberville Parish. "Our kids are growing up with cellphones so we ask them to use them appropriately."

Every student in Iberville Parish is issued an Apple laptop they use throughout the school year. And as more districts do the same, Joffrion said, officials in Iberville feel trying to keep cellphones off campus is just not a battle they should be fighting.

Officials in districts where students do have limited access to their cellphones said they don't see as many referrals for cellphone infractions as they did before restrictions and/or bans were removed.

And students who do use their cellphones to videotape fights and bully classmates face stiffer punishments, like suspensions.

"We're certainly in a different world today," Trump said. "The greatest need and biggest arguments for having them comes down to personal convenience. And I think that's why we all have them."

©2017 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.