Tyrone Area School District looking to re-enforce its cell phone policy for students in 2008-09

Tyrone Area School District officials and staff plan to re-enforce many of its student policies from tardiness to dress code to bullying behavior, but the school’s policies on the use of cell phones, random locker searches, and metal detectors will be a top priority in the 2008-09 school year.
Newly appointed Tyrone Area High School Dean of Students, Michael McKee, said that the district’s cell phone policy hasn’t changed much from last year, but he “guarantees” that it will be enforced within the school better than in previous years.
Once the bell rings to begin the school day, all students must have cell phones off and out of sight. If a cell phone is in plain sight and vibrates, rings, is answered, used to take photographs or as a calculator or watch, or sending or receiving text messages, students will face disciplinary action.
The first violation consists of one after school detention and the cell phone is confiscated until the end of the school day. A second violation involves one Saturday detention and the cell phone is confiscated once again, with only a parent being able to retrieve the phone from the school. An informal hearing will also be held for three or more days suspension.
If a third violation occurs, a student will receive three days of in-school suspension, and that student is banned from having a cell phone in school. Parents will be required to meet with district administration, with possible Alternative Education Program (AEP) placement, and an informal hearing for three or more days suspension.
The only students allowed to have access to their cell phones or electronic devices are students who are members of a volunteer fire company, ambulance, or rescue service, or if a student has a need for such a device due to the medical condition of an immediate family member. Either requires prior administrative approval.
Although the disciplinary guidelines may seem strict to students, McKee thinks its necessary to try and control the use of cell phones in the school. He said that the district is going to stand by the policy throughout the year, because last school year there were more issues with cell phones.
“It’s not as much cheating on tests, but it’s more a distraction in the classroom,” stated McKee. “It interrupts instruction, and instead of paying attention in class, students are sending text messages.”
Last year there were rumors of a possible firearm threat within the school that prompted an early Thanksgiving vacation, school lockdowns, and the beginning of metal detector usage. Although those threats never occurred, text messaging was thought to be the cause of those rumors.
High School Principal Tom Yoder doesn’t think there is a “rampant” problem in the school with cell phones, but he said that as phones and other electronic devices evolve more and more, there could always be a potential problem in the future.
“The biggest problem with the cell phones is that it disturbs instruction and we just can’t have that,” said Yoder. “Students want to be texting and talking and taking pictures all the time, and school just isn’t the place for it.”
Yoder hopes that the parents are supportive of what the district is doing with the cell phone policy, because he thinks that students are “too dependent” on cell phones and other electronic devices.
“In the real world they can’t be sitting at work taking calls and have their head phones on,” added Yoder. “The odds are pretty good they’re going to get fired, so kids need to learn what’s a responsible use of these devices.”
On the first day of school Monday, teachers and staff will be instructed that after the first bell rings, if a cell phone is visible, the phone will be taken and given to the dean of students or the principal.
“That’s the way it was before, but we’re going to stress that again this year,” said McKee. “We want to make sure that if cell phones are visible, they will be taken.”
As far as the district’s random locker searches and use of metal detectors, school officials will be sporadically using both throughout the school year as a preventative measure; checking for weapons, contraband, and anything else along those lines. School officials gave no indication on whether or not the metal detectors would be used on the first day of school.
“The metal detectors have been a very positive thing for the high school,” said Yoder. “We’ll use the same format as we used last year, except there will be an additional line for students at the middle school.”
Students are asked to empty their pockets and book bags on a table, before passing through the metal detector. The district says the process should be quicker than last year, because the school has more equipment available and are better prepared.
“It’s completely preventative,” stated Yoder. “We want everyone to know that we’re going to be randomly checking for weapons or whatever, and that should be a huge deterrent – it was last year.”
Another addition in the high school this year will be the posting of a disciplinary guidelines and procedures chart in all of the classrooms, which will make both teachers and students aware of the school’s infractions list and the punishments that follows each one.
The school even plans on stiffening the punishment for wearing hats in the building. In previous years, students received a warning for wearing a hat, but now a detention will be handed out.
Yoder and McKee think that consistency among the administration and staff will be the key to succeeding in regulating the school’s policies this year to prevent problems within the school.