County Schools To Set District-Wide Policy On Cell Phones At School

  • Tuesday, February 14, 2023
  • Hannah Campbell

The school board will consider a district-wide policy for student cell phones in high schools in March, with possible approval by April for fall 2023.

Currently each school has its own policy, but the rezoning of East Ridge High School, Brainerd High School and Hixson High School, also this fall, warrants a discussion of a uniform policy, said school board member Larry Grohn.

Mr. Grohn said Hamilton County is one of only four school districts out of 142 in Tennessee without a district-wide policy. The others are Kingsport, Maryville and Williamson County.

Policies in Hamilton County schools range from allowing “responsible” use all day to requiring phones to be off and out of sight all day. Howard High School has a deposit box at classroom entrances.

Superintendent Dr. Justin Robertson said principals and teachers would have autonomy for instructional use, such as for speech notes or a videography class. Now that students have Chromebooks, he said, students shouldn’t need a phone for class.

Principals may also approve devices in designated break areas, such as the cafeteria.

Rhonda Thurman said she is in support of a district-wide policy in the spirit of the district-wide code of acceptable behavior, ensuring that every student is given the same punishment for the same offense.

The committee discussed limiting “severely” posting images taken on school property to social media, in the interest of student privacy which the parents have entrusted to the school. Posting a video of a fight, for example, is destructive to the victim, and the sharing of explicit photos ranges from a misdemeanor to a felony offense.

HCDE attorney Scott Bennett said the Tennessee attorney general has said schools may confiscate a personal phone. Tyner Academy now specifies that students who bring a phone to school “do so at their own risk.”

The worst offenses could mean the phone is confiscated for three, five, 10 or 20 days.

The committee agreed to start with the Tennessee School Board Association’s sample policy.

The school board will have a first reading of a district-wide policy at its March meeting. The second reading and possible approval would occur at its April meeting and take effect in the fall.

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