Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Educators, lawmakers, parents and teens may be headed for a collision on the technology train when it comes to cell phone use in schools.
The State Board of Education plans Friday to discuss a proposed policy to require school districts to set up guidelines for electronic devices in schools by April 1, 2009.
A draft policy, which includes different options, has been sent to district superintendents and charter-school directors for review. Many districts already have some type of cell-phone policy. The rules and consequences vary district to district.
Past board discussions have run the gamut from banning cell phones from campus to using them for educational purposes.
In this technology age, teens consider their cell phones to be an extension of their hand. Parents like to have immediate contact with their children for communication and safety but agree with teachers that phones can cause problems in the classroom.
Utah's education officials and lawmakers point to recent incidents of students using camera phones to take nude photos of themselves and others. Texting is being used for harassment or bullying.
But many adults admit there is an opportunity to harness this technology that teens are so obsessed with and potentially use it to promote education.
"We have to to find a way to use the tools of our children's generation to benefit their education," said board member Debra Roberts.
Some teachers are beginning to use e-mail and text messages to remind students of a test or when their homework is due.
Board member Teresa Theurer says her son's English teacher e-mails students for those reasons and sometimes even attaches academic articles. "This is great college preparation," she said.
Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, proposed legislation earlier this year to require all school districts to adopt an electronic-device policy.
"Cell phones can be so disruptive and can also be used for cheating," Allen said. "But they can also be used for instruction."
The bill didn't pass, but state education officials took notice.
The state Parent Teacher Association supports not having cell phones in the classroom. "Teachers can't teach if cell phones are ringing and beeping," said Marilyn Larsen, PTA safety and welfare commissioner.
Parent Tricia Ely, of Salt Lake City, has three children in high school, and they all have cell phones "so they can reach us and feel safe," she said.
Ely says she appreciates being able to text her kids during school if it's important, like reminding them of a dentist appointment.
Her 15-year-old son said he likes having a cell phone at school but is OK with not using it during class. His mother agrees, saying, "There needs to be text-free time."
In the Ely home, the devices are off during dinner and family activities. The phones are confiscated at 11 p.m. daily because the kids were getting calls from friends at 1 a.m.
Teens can use technology as a weapon. But anti-bullying expert Jodee Blanco, author of the New York Times best-seller "Please Stop Laughing at Me," says she doesn't believe banning cell phones at school will deter bullying.
"If you deny the kids cell phones, they will just find some other way to torment each other," Blanco told the Deseret News. She was in Salt Lake City to speak to students at St. Vincent de Paul School."You've got to inspire the kids from the inside out," she said, "not take away their tools."
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