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Morris Area School Board debates cell phone policy

Members of the Morris Area School Board spent the better part of a half-hour discussing the cell phone policy at their meeting Monday.

The proposed new policy states that students cannot have their cell phones with them during class. During the previous school year students could have their cell phones in their pocket or in their backpacks/purses. The new language requires students to leave their cell phones in their

lockers prior to going to their first class. Students would be allowed to check their cell phones in between classes and during lunch.

The board was holding its third and final reading of the high school handbook when Board chair Kurt Gartland stated that he doesn't feel the policy on cellphones goes far enough.

"The handbook says no cellphones in classrooms. The concept is good," Gartland stated. "But what about the library, the gyms, locker rooms? What's a classroom? We could be more specific."

Gartland went on to say that the school board could change the school atmosphere by confining the use of cell phones, in essence setting up what he called a 'safe school.'

Boardmember Brent Fuhrman responded that the day is gone that the school can effectively eliminate cell phones from the building.

"Parents are communicating with their kids on their cell phones."

However, he said he thinks the policy as it was presented takes the cell phones out of the classrooms and puts the focus back on learning.

Gartland said that he understands that cell phones are a part of life, but asked "what educational purpose do they serve? Is there a way to confine their use?"

Fuhrman cautioned against setting a policy that was too strict and suggested that the board put the issue in the administrators' hands and revisit the issue at mid-year to see what the impact has been.

Boardmember Stan Wulf agreed with Fuhrman that the board should give the administration some latitude in enforcing the policy and "don't assume that every kid with a cell phone will abuse it."

He asked the board to consider the overall experience of coming to school. He said that cell phones are a big thing with students.

"We've all heard students complain that the school feels like a prison. We don't want to take it to that level. We need to show that we understand kids."

Boardmember Laura Carrington said that she has mixed feelings about the policy because part of it is a parenting issue. But she noted that the cell phone policy was discussed with teachers as part of the meet and confer process, and teachers were having difficulty enforcing the policy as it was.

"Don't make it so difficult that it can't be enforced," Carrington warned.

Carrington then made a motion to approve the high school handbook as presented, giving the administration leeway to adjust the cell phone policy if necessary. Gartland seconded the motion and the handbook was approved on a voice vote with no dissent.