A draft revision to a Montgomery County Public Schools regulation would lift a prohibition against elementary students possessing cell phones in school.
The revision, reviewed by a county Board of Education committee Tuesday, also would require students, who use their phones to access the internet during school, to use the MCPS network instead of private cellular networks.
“We’re keeping up with the reality of the times,” school board member Pat O’Neill said, noting the ubiquity of cell phones and other devices among young people. At the same time, however, “we don’t want [the devices] to interrupt the school day.” O’Neil chairs the board’s Policy Management Committee, which considered the first draft of a rewritten regulation. The board does not have to approve the regulation.
O’Neill noted that student texting during school isn’t only “student to student,” but is as likely to be “mom to student” when families need to inform their children about schedule changes, but don’t want to go through the school office.
MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith could issue the revised regulation by the start of the 2017-2018 school year, MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said.
The revised regulation covers all “personal mobile devices”—any non-MCPS device that can send voice, video or text; cell phones; e-readers; tablets; personal computers; or other devices equipped with microphones, speakers or cameras.
Students in all grades would still be required to keep devices off during the school day unless teachers allow their use for instructional purposes. High school students, though, would still be allowed to use their devices during lunch periods. The regulation allows school personnel to confiscate the devices if students are caught using them.
Principals also may suspend the use of the devices temporarily if they are used in a manner inconsistent with board policies, regulations or rules.
And students who violate the regulation could be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct, Turner said.
Under the existing regulation, elementary students needed written permission from a parent or guardian to possess a device and approval from principals. Secondary students on elementary school grounds are required to keep their phones off and out of sight during the school day, including lunch periods.
The prohibition against private cell networks is to ensure students use the MCPS filtering that prevents students from accessing certain websites. Filtering is not available on the private cell networks. Therefore, students would be required to use the school system’s network for internet access, according to the revised regulation.
Using the MCPS network can benefit the school system and the student, school system general counsel Joshua I. Civin said. If students use the network, the school system can act if there are online problems, such as cyberbullying. And students can save on the cost of cell phone bills if they use the network, he said.
“The idea is to channel people onto our network,” Civin said.
As part of the revised regulation, devices could be used on school buses or commercially chartered buses so long as the devices do not affect the safe operation of the bus.
The draft regulation also states that all MCPS equipment, the MCPS network and the student’s MCPS network account are school system property and may be monitored, logged and archived.
Students and staff are prohibited from putting a device on the MCPS network that monitors, analyzes or causes disruption to the network. And the regulation states no student will be allowed to change or delete files belonging to others.
Under the regulation, students may not use their devices to violate the privacy of others, or to jeopardize the health or safety of students. They are prohibited from using their devices to post obscene or libelous material, and they may not disrupt school activities. Also, they may not use their devices to plagiarize the work of others or share commercial advertisements.