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Sarasota Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 3 months ago

School board broadens discussion regarding electronic device policies

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School Board members expanded their review of cell phone use to address electronic devices in general.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

School board members have suggested revising school rules on cell phones based on educational stages. At a Feb. 5 workshop, a set of regulations was put forward for elementary, middle and high school students.

  • Elementary school students would be required to have their devices off and kept out of view “at all times.”
  • Middle school students would be allowed to use their devices under staff supervision for instructional purposes.
  • High school students may be able to access their devices between classes, at lunch or when supervised by staff for class instruction.

The in-force policy requires that electronic devices (devices that are “designed to receive and send an electronic signal or store digital data”) remain off and put away during school hours.

“What we have a problem with, mainly, is that people weren’t following the policy that we’ve had in effect,” School Board Chair Jane Goodwin said. “I just see so many kids that are just not engaged in being present, and that's what I'm concerned about. Being present.”

"If we look at the current policy, I'd actually be okay with it if it was actually being adhered to."

"If we look at the current policy, I'd actually be OK with it if it was actually being adhered to," Board member Bridget Zeigler later echoed.

Previously, at a Jan. 22 School Board meeting, board member Eric Robinson also expressed specific concern about teachers using personal devices for educational instruction in the classroom.

This, he said, could adversely impact students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds that cannot afford such devices.

In an effort to tackle this concern head-on, the revised policy also cites that elementary school students “will not be asked to use their personal devices for instructional purposes.” Middle and high school institutions, on the other hand, are to provide alternative school device options should a staff member choose to use personal electronic devices in the classroom.

School board members review the student use of electronic devices.

“I can say with confidence that there are enough school board devices that we can support our children with classroom activities should they not have personal devices at middle school or high school,” said Laura Kingsley, the Assistant Superintendent Chief Academic Officer of Sarasota Schools.

Similarly, Kinglsey said that hard copies of textbooks are available for any students who may not have access to digital classroom textbooks.

Ultimately, the subject remained clouded by doubt and continued questions.

“This is a no-win, whether you ban cell phones or you don’t ban cell phones,” Board member Caroline Zucker said regarding parent and teacher feedback. “No matter which way we would go on this policy, someone will still be complaining.”

Board members agreed that any policy revision or implementation would go into effect during the 2019-2020 academic year.

They will discuss the use of electronic devices further at the April 16 school board workshop.

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