Prince George’s school board approves more-lenient cellphone policy for students

Cellphones will no longer be prohibited in classrooms or on school buses in Prince George’s County under a new policy approved unanimously by the school board Thursday night.

School Board Member Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5) said the district received international attention when it approved its cellphone policy, considered one of the strictest in the Washington region, four years ago. The policy not only banned the use of cellphones but also included a penalty of confiscation.

School officials said Thursday’s vote was taken as an emergency measure so principals could receive training on how to implement the policy and it could be included in the student handbooks, which are printed during the summer. The board’s next official meeting is Aug. 28, which is after school starts.

The new policy, which takes effect after the summer break, will allow students to use the devices on school buses, at after-school activities and during the regular school day.

Under the new policy, cellphones are also permitted during the school day, based on grade level, for instructional purposes and at other times that are approved by school principals, provided that the devices do not interfere with learning.

The old policy prohibited the use of cellphones during school hours. Phones were to be turned off and in a student’s locker. If a student violated the policy, the phone was confiscated. A second violation required a parent or guardian to retrieve the phone and a third violation could result in a student being banned from bringing a phone to school for the rest of the school year.

School officials have called previous policy unrealistic, given the use of technology in today’s society. They also said it did not promote the district’s stance on encouraging technology in the classroom.

After a resident testified about research on cellphone usage, board member Beverly Anderson said she would like the new policy to also include information about potential health hazards with excessive use of cellphones.

Jacobs said she wanted to ensure that labor unions, including the teachers, were able to weigh in and offer amendments.

Schools Chief Kevin M. Maxwell agreed, saying he will work with the teachers on any changes they deem necessary.

Board member Peggy Higgins said before she voted that she shared the proposal with several principals and they were excited about the new policy.

Demetria Tobias, an associate general counsel who worked with a team of staffers to help draft the policy, said previously that educators want to encourage technology instead of having a “blanket prohibition.”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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