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The Charles County Board of Education might tweak new cellphone rules that address concerns the board had at the end of last year to ensure more consistency across all schools in the system.

The new cellphone rules have been published and are in effect this school year.

Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill said the intent of the rule changes were to adjust the consequences so that students weren't being sent home for out-of-school suspension on the second violation when there were other ways to handle the violations.

The rules now state that on the first offense, students will be warned, their parents will be called and the cellphone will be confiscated. A parent or guardian can retrieve the phone after a successful conference with the appropriate school administrator.

The second offense comes with a warning, and the student could be disciplined up to and including in-school suspension, as decided by the appropriate administrator.

The phone will be confiscated and returned to a parent after a conference.

Any additional offense comes with a warning and possible disciplinary action up to and including out-of-school suspension. The cellphone will be confiscated as in the first two consequences with parents allowed to get it back after holding a conference with the appropriate administrator. The principal could remove the privilege of the student having and using the phone at school for the remainder of the school year.

Last year, the second offense came with a one-day out-of-school suspension. Three days of suspension was given for a third offense.

Except for the exceptions listed under the superintendent's rules, students are not permitted to have or use cellphones on school property, school buses or school-chartered vehicles, or at any school-sponsored activity before, during or after the school day.

Phones with camera and video functions cannot be used to take or transmit any image or video at any time, even if the use of the cellphone is otherwise permitted.

The changes make separate rules for elementary and middle school students.

Elementary students are permitted to have cellphones with written permission from the principal for a specific purpose, provided the possession of the phone does not disrupt the school setting at any time.

Middle school students can have a cellphone at school provided it is powered off and stored in the student's locker.

Conditions of the rule that affect all levels state that the use of cellphones is not to cause any disruption to the school setting at any time, a student may possess a phone on school property with written permission from the principal for a specific purpose that does not include socializing or other nonessential purposes, and a student can have a cellphone while attending but not participating in an event that is held on school grounds after school hours and is open to the general public.

For high school students, cellphones must be turned off and not visible at all times during the school day. The condition emphasizes that a cellphone in vibrate or another inaudible mode is not considered off. This emphasis also is outlined for middle school students.

High school students can use a cellphone before and after school hours, as defined by the school, but not during a time when the student is aboard a school bus or other school-sponsored vehicles, except that a student may use a cellphone while traveling to a school-sponsored activity on a school bus or school-sponsored vehicle to briefly communicate with a caregiver, as long as the supervising teacher or coach has granted permission.

Some board members took issue with the condition that the end of the school day is defined by the school. They would have liked to see more consistency.

Board member Maura H. Cook said she understood that the school day ends at different times at different schools but would like to see consistency in when students can turn on their phones on, like after the last bell or when the students are outside.

Member Pamela S. Pedersen said she also would like to see consistency across the schools.

“It doesn't matter when it is, as long as it is the same.”

Board attorney Eric Schwartz said that principals discussed the issue at length and it was determined that each principal had a different view as to what determines the end of the school day for their particular school.

Schwartz said the principals' definition of the end of the day for each school would be made clear to students at that school.

Cook said she would like to see the different rules posted for each school so everyone knows what the end of the day means for each school.

Hill said that with the rules as they are now written, the school system can work with principals for consistency, and as board members suggested, the rules would be clearly laid out for all to see.

“No one should be surprised when consequences are laid out. Everyone should clearly know what the expectations are, and then once they know that, then we carry out those expectations,” Hill said.



To find out more

The school system's cellphone policy and associated rules are available on the school system's website, www2.ccboe.com.



gphillips@somdnews.com