Schools may muzzle student cell phone use

Anchorage district considers policy to fight 'cyberbullying'

Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Inconsistent cell phone use policies across the Anchorage School District have prompted the school board to consider a uniform policy for students.

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The proposed rules, which the board gave unanimous conditional approval this week, will be put to a final vote at a board meeting June 25.

School officials say student cell phone use is the modern-day equivalent of note-passing, and so-called "cyberbullying" - students sending harassing messages and pictures - is an increasing problem in Anchorage schools.

"We just wanted to stop it," said Rhonda Gardner, an assistant superintendent. "It is a growing problem and it's one we want to get ahead of."

Under the proposed policy, students could face punishment if they use their phone or a computer to bully another student if the act takes place on school grounds, at a school event, or if the harassment interferes with the school day.

It's brand-new to the district's policy book, Gardner said, as is the policy on cell phone use.

An estimated 61 percent of teenagers carry cell phones today, up from 25 percent in the year 2000, according to Teenage Research Unlimited.

The proposal would allow students to use their cell phones before and after school and during lunch. Talking in the hallways between class would be banned, as would text messaging while class is in session.

Anchorage School Board President Tim Steele said the issue is not students having cell phones, it is the inconsistent policies that have been enacted by principals across the district.

"Electronic devices are, if anything, going to increase, not decrease," Steele said. "They're not going away. So we needed something."

The rules are the result of months of work by a board committee that took comments from students, principals and lawyers, Steele said. He said the board understands many parents are more comfortable with their child having a cell phone, and the board is not trying to interfere with that.

"It's a huge safety issue," he said. "My daughter will go somewhere and I know I can call her and get a hold of her. It gives you a lot of comfort."

The problem is students don't just call their parents, he said, and the board thought there should be rules so text-messaging and chitchatting don't disrupt the school day.

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