As the list of personal electronic devices becomes longer, are schools’ conduct policies keeping up with the times? RIT journalism students Michael Roppolo and Lyndsey Saunders look into school policy and student reactions in Rochester City, Hilton and Gates-Chili School Districts.

Making cellphones and other technology acceptable in school In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology released a National Technology Plan in the hopes of achieving President Obama’s goal that by 2020, “America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

The report stresses that students and educators should have “options for engaging in learning: large groups, small groups, and work tailored to the individual goals, needs, interests, and prior experience of each learner.” It also stressed the importance of utilizing technology, which will help to develop “inquisitive, creative, resourceful thinkers; informed citizens; effective problem-solvers; groundbreaking pioneers; and visionary leaders.”

Despite this national recommendation arguing for the inclusion of cell phones and other technologies in the curriculum, in a recent study released by Project Tomorrow, 55% of students polled nationwide said that they could not use their cell phones while in school. Some school districts in the Rochester area are no exception, as they remain against students having their cell phones (or any other personal electronic devices) in classrooms and on campus.

Rochester City School District

The Rochester City School District, which upon researching, had one of the strictest policies against cell phone usage in class. According to the RCSD Code of Conduct, disruptive behavior caused by students who are in found in possession of “laser pointers, pagers, beepers, walkie-talkies, or portable/cellular phones equipped with video or photographic capacity” on school property, may result in disciplinary actions, including suspension from school.

The Rochester City School District’s Code of Conduct does not appear to have been updated since November of 2009. We asked school officials why this was and if there were plans to update soon, but could not obtain an answer in time to publish. A FOIL request has been submitted for these answers, we will update our readers when we find out.

Some students in the Rochester City School District are not at all pleased with the ban or cellphones or the strict rules and enforcements on cell phone policy.

“I don’t really see the point,” said Gideon Kemp, a student at the Dr. Freddie Thomas High School. “I don’t think it helps anything; it just makes a bigger problem, in my opinion.”

“I listen to the rules and don’t bring my cellphone into school,” said Kemp. “But I don’t see the problem if I did.”

In an article by YNN, news students express their dislike of the cell phone bans, particularly talking about safety, but Edison Campus Principal Bonnie Atkins said that there has been a dramatic change in the culture inside the school.

“The school day is very different,” said Atkins, “Because you don’t have kids calling each other in and out of class, kids texting in class, the teacher spending more of the instructional time saying, ‘put it away or take it from the place to that place.’ Theft, we haven’t had a single incident of a cell phone being stolen at all, we haven’t had a single incident reported of cyber bullying during the school day because of that. You have your normal teenage problems during the school day. In other words, it gives the kids time to get the emotion out of it because they’re not all of a sudden angrily texting on the cell phone.”

Hilton School District

However, in the nearby Hilton Central School District, change is apparent. Originally against having students’ electronic devices in class, the high school recently adopted a policy that allowed students to have personal electronic devices out.

There are still some restrictions, as designated by a streetlight signal in each of the classrooms. According to the District website, there is a “red room,” in which no personal devices are allowed; a “yellow room,” in which some devices are allowed with an instructor’s permission; and a “green room,” which allows students to use personal devices as tools of learning.

Always evolving, the HCSD Code of Conduct has been changed several times over the past few years. The policy is always changing, as required by the NYSED, and will be reviewed at the May 8, 2012 meeting of the Board of Education, according to the Hilton Director of Communications and Community Education, Barbara Carder.

Gates-Chili Central Schools

A third path chosen by Gates-Chili School District is combining electronics policy with the rest of the school’s policies. There is no specific policy guiding the use of personal electronics, in fact, the Code of Conduct only specifies as “disorderly or disruptive” conduct as (section VII, 1.j):

Using/carrying cell phones, radios, pagers, walkmans, video recording devices, MP3 players, or other telecommunications or imaging devices during the instructional day except in such areas or at times specifically authorized by the building principal

On the other hand, GCS does a better job of explaining a three-step discipline process for those students who violate the code of conduct. And whereas other policies focus on students, GCS’s policy spells out – albeit in somewhat vague form – an acceptable use policy for faculty, parents, visitors and non-essential personnel.

DragonFlyEye.Net will continue to bring you comparisons of school policies around the area in the coming weeks. We’re also looking for local educator reactions to the state of technology in classrooms, which we will bring you as we get it. Is there a school whose policy you’d like us to review? An administrator you’d like us to contact? Leave us a note in the comments section or else contact us to send us a confidential message.

4 Responses to Technology in the classroom: how do local schools deal with personal electronics?

  • May 30, 2012 at 8:24 am Mike Hunt responds:

    give some facts such as higher test scores thanks!

  • June 1, 2012 at 8:59 pm Sarah J. responds:

    From a teacher's perspective, it is frustrating to have students texting rather than paying attention in class. I have no problem with students having phones in the hallways or study halls as long as they don't bother anyone (which seems to be in line with Hilton and GC's policies). However, they can be a big distraction in the classroom.

    Part of the problem is lack of engagement, which teachers can work to improve. The other part is an addiction to being connected ALL THE TIME. Teenagers, on average, send over 3,300 texts per month (110 per day). This doesn't include checking Facebook and Twitter. Studies have also shown that nomophobia – fear of being away from your cell phone – is becoming very common. I've seen students panic when their phone is confiscated because they are convinced that something horrible will happen and they won't find out quickly enough.

    That being said, we should continue to embrace technology as it evolves. However, if something is preventing students from focusing and learning, it doesn't belong in school. This can be compared to previous bans on virtual pets, slap bracelets, silly bandz, etc. Granted, there are productive uses for smartphones, but nothing you couldn't do on a laptop or iPad (which most schools have available for student use).

    Just my two cents. :)

    • June 4, 2012 at 8:33 am dragonflyeye responds:

      I agree with most everything you're saying here. But I would submit that is precisely in schools where kids aught to be learning about how to responsibly use their phones.

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