District happy with new relaxed cell phone rules


Published: Monday, December 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 30, 2003 at 10:37 p.m.

Buchholz High School junior Stephanie Raven summarized the difference between how cell phones were used in school last year versus this year.

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Buchholz sophomore Tom Sullivan chats with a friend on his cell phone after school Tuesdayon Nov. 25. The Alachua County school district approved a more relaxed cell phone policy this summer.

ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun

Facts

FYI: Policy change

  • The new school district policy allows students to bring their cell phones or pagers to middle and high school, but they have to keep them turned off and out of sight during school hours.

  • Previously, the district told students to keep cell phones in their car and off school grounds.

  • "The big thing now is you can use cell phones after school in the mall area (of school)," said Raven, a 16-year-old junior. "Last year, you had to go off-campus."

    The days when cell phones were officially banned from Alachua County school campuses are gone, taking with them many students' dependence on pay phones or the school's office phone to reach friends or family after school.

    This summer, the Alachua County school district approved a new, relaxed cell phone policy. It allows students to bring their cell phones or pagers to middle and high school, but they have to keep them turned off and out of sight during school hours.

    Previously, the district told students to keep cell phones in their car and off school grounds.

    School officials say they endorse the change.

    "The new policy is what we were doing all along," said Will Calsam, assistant principal at Buchholz High School.

    In a school of more than 2,500 students, Calsam estimated at least 60 percent of BHS students own cell phones, which would have made enforcing an outright ban of cell phones, even for after-school activities, increasingly difficult.

    "It was kind of `don't ask, don't tell,' " Calsam said.

    This year, Calsam said the school had its share of problems at the beginning of the year, but disruptions have declined as school officials have "made an example" out of students caught using a phone during school hours.

    Districtwide discipline figures show the instances of cell phone or pager misconduct - 42 - reported through October is only slightly higher than for the same period last year.

    "A cell phone that goes off in class, those are the ones that get written up," Calsam said.

    At schools, cell phones are supposed to be confiscated if they ring or students are seen using them during school hours. The students' parents then are asked to come to school to retrieve the phones.

    Depending on level of disruption created, consequences range from loss of cell-phone privileges to out-of-school suspension.

    Students say the new policy is more convenient for them and their parents, who might need to pick them up or leave voice-mail messages that they can check after the final bell rings.

    Dolores Utley, assistant principal at Fort Clarke Middle School, said school staff had been anticipating seeing more classroom disruptions because of the rule change, but so far they have not.

    "It's almost as if we've had fewer problems," Utley said. "We've been real surprised.

    "When (cell phones) were not allowed, there were more kids who snuck them in and got caught."

    Douane D. James can be reached at 374-5087 or jamesd@gvillesun.com.

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