Schools Get Tough On Cell Phone Use

Payson district tries to prevent cheating, harassment and ‘sexting’ as students send off average of 50 texts every day

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No naked pictures.

No lurid texts.

No texting in class.

No cheating on tests

And teachers — we’re watching you.

That’s the gist of the Payson Unified School District’s tough new policy on the use of cell phones and other digital communication devices at school.

The Payson School Board has adopted a policy governing the use of electronic devices designed so that teachers keep relationships professional and appropriate when they use texting, Twitter, MySpace or other social networks to communicate with students or parents.

In addition, the policy attempts to strictly regulate the use of cell phones by students, stressing that students cannot use their phones to cheat, sex-text, exchange nude photos, invade the privacy of other students, harass other students or otherwise “disrupt the educational environment.”

The administration hopes the new policy will give administrators a legal basis on which to monitor the use of social networking and cell phones by students, staff and administrators. And if the national surveys are any guide, the policy won’t have much effect on the explosion of cell phone use among students — including the exchange of nude photos and sexually explicit text messages.

The just-adopted Payson policy has a section aimed mostly at teachers and administrators. The policy comes in the shadow of incidents nationally in which teachers posted personal information on sites like MySpace or Facebook, only to have that information end up e-mailed and commented on and exchanged by students.

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Payson School Board members recently adopted a new policy regulating the use of cell phones and other digital communication devices at school.

The policy requires teachers to use school-sponsored accounts for any sites or messages that connect with students, to maintain separate personal sites that students can’t access and to check their sites frequently to make sure no one posts anything improper.

The policy says teachers must produce copies of any of their electronic communications or Web sites if asked — but doesn’t give administrators the right to inspect teachers’ communications and e-mail without permission.

The policy says that “educators are advised that educator-student relationships must always remain appropriate and utilizing these social networking tools with students may place the educator on a ‘slippery slope’ to cross those boundaries.”

The policy also includes attempts to impose some limits on student use of cell phones and other electronic devices, despite surveys suggesting that even total bans on cell phones on campus haven’t had much effect in other districts.

The just-adopted policy notes “such student misuses will be handled as serious school violations and immediate and appropriate disciplinary action will be imposed.”

The policy takes special aim at “sexting” and the exchange of nude or suggestive photos. National surveys show that the exchange of sexually explicit phone text messages has exploded, with an estimated one in seven teens taking the next step and sending nude photos of themselves, according to the PEW Research Center’s national survey of 800 teens and 800 adults.

A stunning 30 percent of 17-year-olds and 4 percent of 12-year-olds said they had engaged in sexting and the exchange of nude photos. Some teens report that they send or receive such photos by using their cell phone cameras almost weekly.

The district’s policy bars “sexting” on any electronic device, “regardless of when the message was received while on school grounds or at a school activity,” says the policy.

The policy says the transmission of a nude photograph of any child younger than 16 could constitute child pornography, even if the image is exchanged between teenagers. The policy calls for the school to report any such illegal messages or images.

One national study concluded that perhaps 80 percent of students now have cell phones, with the average student getting a phone at the age of 12. The average student nationally sends about 1,500 text messages a month — including an average of about three an hour during each class, according to a survey by the PEW Foundation.

The girls in the survey sent an average of 80 texts per day and the boys about 30 — which compares to the 10 texts a day average for adults.

The survey found that about half of teens can text without looking at the keyboard and four out of five say they sleep with their cell phone by their bed — so they can text during the night.

The survey found that 15 percent of teens had sent naked photos of themselves on their cell phones. Half say that the use of cell phones to store information for use on tests is common.

Many schools ban cell phones altogether, but the survey showed that even at schools with a total ban, two-thirds of students bring their phones to school.

Nationally, the explosion of cell phone use has led to repeated incidents involving cheating, suicides, affairs between students and teachers and sometimes lethal harassment.

Often, messages and photos initially exchanged by romantically involved students, cause trauma and harassment when spread through the furiously humming cell phone network that pervades the schools.

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