The Prince George's County board of education adopted a policy banning cell phone use Thursday night in a 7-to-2 vote, after residents and students expressed disapproval, calling the policy broad and unclear earlier in the evening.
"This is a flawed policy and I'm asking that we take it back [to committee]," said student board member Edward Burroughs III, who voted against the policy with board member Linda Thomas (Dist. 4) at Thursday night's school board meeting. Board member Rosalind A. Johnson (Dist. 1) was absent from the meeting.
The policy, which would ban student cell phone use during school hours and require students to keep their phones turned off and hidden, was tabled May 13 after board members said the policy banned phones in too many instances and failed to define clear punishment for violations of the policy.
The policy's second draft, presented Thursday night, allows for students to use phones before or after school and at afterschool activities with the permission of a teacher or coach. Educational use of cell phones in classrooms — an idea Superintendent William Hite Jr. championed earlier — will be allowed under the policy.
Citizens for an Elected Board co-chair David Cahn, who spoke against the policy in May, said Thursday that while the bill is improved, it will be difficult to enforce and liability for confiscated cell phones has yet to be defined.
Under the approved policy, students caught using cell phones will have their phones taken by a school employee and returned to the student at the end of the day. After a second offense, the phones will only be returned to a student's parent or guardian.
When asked how the school system will handle a phone lost by personnel, Hite said a procedure will be developed to categorize confiscated phones, as well as a document concerning when, where and by whom the cell phones were taken. Hite did not say, however, if a student would be reimbursed for a lost phone.
Jonathan Harris II, the newly elected student board member for the upcoming school year, said his biggest concern with the policy was its failure to identify liability.
"Schools need to assume liability for these cell phones," he said. "They are personal possessions."
The administrative procedure portion of the policy, which will indicate how liability is handled, has yet to be developed, as Hite said under board rules the policy must be approved before the administrative procedure is written.
"I see students now using cell phones in hallways, in classrooms, during tests," Hite said. "Right now we have phones that are confiscated and no one accepts liability. ... This is to standardize protocol."
Nearly 10 students from Prince George's County Regional Association of Student Governments (PGRAS) spoke out against the policy before the vote, asking the board to take the policy back to committee and include student input.
Nicole Williams, a rising junior at Gwynn Park Hills School in Brandywine and president of the school's class of 2012, asked board members to consider sitting down with PGRAS students to go over and possibly amend the policy.
"You should consider us when you rewrite this policy and include us in decisions that affect us," she said. "In passing this policy, we do feel left out."
by Megan McKeever---Marlyand Gazette