In the coming months, the Webster Parish School Board will decide whether to approve a proposed policy change to the student cell phone policy.

Currently, students are not allowed to carry a cell phone on campus at all, and during a disciplinary committee meeting Tuesday, consideration of allowing students to have them brought about concerns from all sides of the issue. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls says it has its benefits and its drawbacks.

Kevin Washington, supervisor of Child Welfare and Student Services, left,  briefs the Webster Parish School Board disciplinary committee on an agenda item before discussion. The committee is comprised of bus drivers, behavior interventionists, teachers, Central Office staff, community members and parents. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald
Kevin Washington, supervisor of Child Welfare and Student Services, left, briefs the Webster Parish School Board disciplinary committee on an agenda item before discussion. The committee is comprised of bus drivers, behavior interventionists, teachers, Central Office staff, community members and parents. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald

“This is probably one of the most controversial issues in public schools in nation,” he said. “It’s just about this quick when they’re taking a test. Click. I just took a picture of that page. On the flip side, we have many, many parents who call and say they want their children to have their cell phone for safety reasons. Many of our children walk home, and many walk great distances.”

Another issue school staff deals with is photographs that make their way to social media. An example was given that all a young teenage boy has to do is open the girls’ locker room, hold up their phone, snap a few photographs without ever looking and post the photos of half-dressed young girls all over social media.

Also is the fact that many students already bring their phones to school, roughly 80 percent, officials say. Many in the room agreed they needed to change with the times; however, they questioned whether it was a good idea to allow them to have them on campus. Some said the problems from having cell phones on campus would explode, while others say it wouldn’t make a huge difference on their campus.

David Griffith, WPSB technology coordinator, says he is in the midst of upgrading the school system’s technology infrastructure and if the school board allows students to begin carrying their cell phones, it could add a whole other list of problems to the equation. Among them are loads on the wifi, broadband, internet networks as well as staffing concerns.

“We have all these things we have to manage and we could double our devices overnight if we’re not careful,” he said. “It could mess with our federal funds, because kids could bring their phones and completely bypass our wireless network and go 3G or 4G, set up hotspots and give out signals to other devices that are brought from home. I need time to get us where we need to be before we can even consider the option of doing this.”

They also looked at several other parishes’ cell phone use policies, some that allowed cell phones on campus but must be turned off, others allowing them on campus but put away and still others like Webster where they are not allowed on campus at all.
No timeline was given as to when a recommendation will be made to the board as it has to go through their attorneys and policy writers to make sure it meets all applicable state and federal rules, regulations and laws.

Other items up for discussion during the meeting included student dress code and corporal punishment.

The committee will recommend to the school board that the board’s policy regarding student dress code remain in the hands of the principals. The board requires all students to wear school uniforms; however, it is up to the individual principal to decide the intricacies of the dress code, allowing for students’ age, school colors, uniform color combinations, etc. For example, the lower elementary grades are not required to wear belts with their school uniforms, but upper elementary are required to do so.

They even discussed whether it should be allowable for male students to wear earrings to school. Disciplinary Committee Chair Ronnie Broughton says it could be considered a liability issue. For instance, if a male student plays ball, then they are not allowed to wear earrings. The Louisiana High School Athletics Association also has its own regulations regarding jewelry that play into that decision.

Some said they believe it is about students learning to take pride in themselves and how they look, because one day, they will have to interview for jobs.

The committee will also recommend that the policy on corporal punishment remain the same. Parents are allowed to opt their children out of corporal punishment and must sign forms saying whether the school is or is not allowed to apply corporal punishment to each child.

Five schools out of the parish that do not implement corporal punishment – those include Minden High School, North Webster High School, North Webster Junior High School, Webster Junior High School and Lakeside High School.