Pasco County School Board wants to get tough on cell phone use

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco School Board members want to get tough on cell phone use in schools.

They're hoping to get some rule changes pushed through with the new student code of conduct that takes effect in August. Board members will have the first of two public hearings on the code today.

As proposed, the updated version will highlight state law banning phones and electronic devices from rooms where students are taking the FCAT. A handful of teens had their tests invalidated last week for failing to comply.

The changes also would prohibit students from using their phone or other personal technology that can access the Internet to visit Web sites that would not make it through the district filters.

"Even though you're not on our network, you still have to follow our rules," said Ruth Reilly, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Those proposals don't go far enough, board vice chairman Allen Altman said.

"My focus on the cell phone stuff comes from students who are good, honest kids who feel that there's some misuse of electronic devices that some kids are using to their advantage," Altman said. "I want students and teachers to know if those devices are used to gain an unfair advantage, it's cheating and the repercussions will be tough."

Other board members conveyed similar sentiments during a recent workshop on district policy. Student services director Lizette Alexander said she's working to further revise the proposal.

One idea is to extend the phone ban from the FCAT testing room to all rooms where testing is under way.

Of equal importance, though, is the need to tackle the root problem, Alexander suggested.

"The issue of dishonesty has always been with us," she said. "Technology facilitates it. I think what we have to do is work on academic honesty."

The code of conduct update also adds a few other new rules.

Hazing — defined as "any action or situation which coerces another including the victim to perform any act which causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm" — is explicitly banned for the first time.

Bullying is more tightly defined, in following the state's new antibullying law.

Distribution of illegal substances is specifically stated as grounds for disciplinary action, as are use and possession.

The book appears to get rid of the ban on gum chewing in schools — it's crossed off the list of inappropriate behavior. But Reilly said gum remains off-limits. It's just been incorporated into the broader prohibition on "materials that are inappropriate for an educational setting."

"It gets everywhere," she said. "It's a mess."

The School Board will have its first reading of the student code of conduct during its meeting today, which begins at 9:30 a.m. It will have to review the item one other time before it takes effect.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Fast facts

Proposed student code of conduct updates

• Banning cell phones and electronic devices from rooms where students are taking the FCAT.

• Hazing is explicitly banned for the first time.

• Rules about bullying follow the state's new antibullying law.

• Distribution of illegal substances is grounds for disciplinary action, as are use and possession of illegal substances.

• Gum chewing becomes part of the broader prohibition on "materials that are inappropriate for an educational setting."

Pasco County School Board wants to get tough on cell phone use 03/15/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 15, 2009 7:12pm]

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