Members of the Charles County Board of Education raised several questions Tuesday about a proposed student cell phone policy but appear poised to allow high school students to bring the devices to school.
If the board votes next month to approve the policy, it would bring Charles into line with the rest of Southern Maryland and school districts such as Montgomery County's that have allowed students to bring cell phones to school since shortly after the Maryland General Assembly repealed the state provisions banning them from school grounds in October 2001.
The proposed Charles policy, in the works for more than a year and negotiated by student leaders with the five high school principals, would permit cell phones at schools only if the devices were turned off and stored in lockers.
At issue during the discussion at Tuesday's regular school board meeting was whether students should be permitted to keep the phones with them in class instead of in their lockers. Board Chairman Kathy Levanduski questioned the consequence of phones being in lockers during an emergency lockdown, when student movement would be restricted.
"If the phone is in the locker, what happens?" she asked.
Board member Margaret Young concurred, saying that many students currently bring cell phones to school illegally -- sometimes at the urging of their parents for safety reasons -- but take great care to hide them.
"To put them in the locker does not address the main driving point by students and parents [who] wanted them on campus," Young said. "I think students can be responsible to carry it on their person, and that addresses the safety issue."
But Lindsey Adkisson, a student board member, and Nicete Moodie, president of the Charles County Association of Student Councils, told board members that the idea of storing the phones in students' lockers was included in the proposal to limit the possibility of classroom disruptions.
Board member Cecil Marshall was concerned about giving already busy principals another thing to monitor, and he pushed for tough enforcement if the new rules were broken.
"I'd like to see strict, hard consequences for this," he said of violations of the proposed policy.
After the meeting, Adkisson, a senior at La Plata High School, was upbeat about the board's feedback, which included praise for the students who worked on the plan and their student adviser. Moodie, also a senior at La Plata, said she welcomed any questions about the policy proposal because that signaled that the board is serious about adopting a change.
"They received it with an open mind," she said.
Moodie said the students initially proposed that they be allowed to have cell phones with them at all times. But in their discussion with principals, they amended that and settled for being able to keep the phones in lockers.
Thomas Stone High School Principal Heath Morrison said that all the principals supported a requirement that the phones be stored in lockers during class time to avoid interruptions in the classroom.
In addition, Morrison said that the most important thing in the emergency situations is that students listen to instructions -- "that they pay attention to us" -- and not rush to their lockers to call home on a cell phone.
Also on Tuesday, the board considered changes to the district's dress code policy, which would bring consistency to the rules of dress at all five high schools. Principals praised the policy for its clarity.