Jefferson City Public Schools is developing a policy on whether students can use cellphones in schools, and though a short-term increase in discipline issues is expected, JCPS Chief of Learning Brian Shindorf said having a policy is the right thing and what staff want.
Among the 553 responses to a staff survey on students' use of cellphones, 95.1 percent of staff said allowing students to have cellphones in class is a disruption, Shindorf told the JCPS Board of Education last week.
A similar percentage of staff — 91.5 percent — also said students do not need to use their cellphones for class.
Of the responses, 180 came from elementary schools, 150 from high schools, 136 from middle schools, 12 from Nichols Career Center and 75 from others.
Staff opinions were evenly split on whether students should be able to use cellphones during lunch or in the hallway during passing periods.
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Shindorf said 92 percent of staff who responded said JCPS should have a policy about students' personal device use, including cellphones.
Upon the district's approval of the Missouri School Boards' Association's policy allowing schools to regulate students' personal device use — which the JCPS Board of Education later did approve that night — the anticipated plan would be to bar any student in grades preK-8 from using a cellphone at any time during the school day, he said.
Shindorf said it's understood students will bring cellphones to school, "but our policy would require to keep them stored either in a locker or a backpack, somewhere put away."
For students in high school, Shindorf said, it would be proposed that cellphones could be used in the cafeteria and in hallways during passing period, but not in classrooms.
Board member Ken Enloe asked whether districtwide discipline guidelines on the issue — determined by a MSBA policy — would be consistent between every school building and grade level.
Shindorf said while there would be districtwide expectations, he cannot guarantee every principal's response — whether to confiscate a phone, have a conference or call a parent — would always be the same as another principal's.
"But we certainly would not want first offense (to be) someone gets suspended from school at one school and, at the other one, they just get a conference with mom and dad," Shindorf said. "We want (principals) to follow the consequence scale that we have."
Board member Lindsey Rowden voiced a need for consistency in a policy.
"We need to make sure that it's crystal clear and consistent. I think, even as a parent, that's my frustration is that the consistency's just not there," Rowden said.
Shindorf said staff's biggest concern about a student cellphone policy has been "our ability to follow through on the expectation."
"At least at the secondary level, this is a complete change from what we currently do," he said.
He said staff expressed concerns about whether administrators would "hold the line" with the proposed policies and procedures.
Shindorf said numerous conversations have been had with administrators, and "we have consistency in the expectations for principals and what they're saying they will do."
He said his and the directors of elementary and secondary education's jobs would be to hold principals accountable to that.
"We anticipate at the beginning of next year, we will probably be dealing with a lot of discipline issues with cellphones. We anticipate that. But I also believe it's the right thing to do," Shindorf said.
He said he would work on information to communicate the new policies to parents, ahead of the coming school year.
He added the language for student handbooks has already been written and shared with principals and the district's faculty council, who had not expressed any concerns to date.