While the incident last month at Granite City High School in which students were suspended for making and resending a sexually inappropriate text on their personal smartphones has caused a lot of controversy, school leaders say the role of phones in schools is something that needs to be discussed.
"A few years ago the move for schools was to ban phones completely," Madison County Regional Office of Education Assistant Superintendent Andrew Reinking said. "But that all has changed. There has been a change in the thought process that instead of ignoring technology, schools should embrace it to help students learn and to help them become good digital citizens in the process."
Schools and students alike need to realize methods of communication have changed, Reinking said. While students view their phones as their private property and immune to school rules, a message sent to classmates on their device isn't much different to one that is shouted with their voice.
"Students need to learn that they have to be careful of what you put on the Internet because it's there forever," Reinking said. "Tweeting is like firing a gun in the air because you never know where it's going to land and what the damage will be. And that also applies to Facebook, blogs and the Internet in general."
The best way for students to learn how to use phones responsibly is to bring them out into the open, not to banish them to students' lockers, Reinking said.
St. Clair County Regional Superintendent Susan Sarfaty said instead of trying to keep students from their phones, schools across the country are moving toward trying to incorporate personal smartphones into classroom work.
"There is a movement called Bring Your Own Device which embraces that these phones are the way kids get info and encourages them to use them to learn," Sarfaty said. "There are resources online that they can access to do research for school projects. There are even textbooks online that they can read on their phones."
Sarfaty said it's smart to let kids use their phones constructively because so many of them already have their own electronic devices. Plus, it saves taxpayers money if schools don't require taxpayers to buy iPads, laptops or netbooks to adapt to the new learning environment.
Reinking said the Bring Your Own Device realizes not everyone has a smartphone, however. He said students are divided for group projects in a way that makes sure every group has someone with an electronic device that has Internet access.
Belleville District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said leaders in his school will soon discuss new policies for how smartphones can be used at school.
"We are going to look at how we can utilize technology the kids have in their hands," Dosier said. "We have to be very careful in the balancing act between using phones for constructive purposes instead of for disruptive things. The big question is how we can adapt what we do to the technology the kids have. It something that we have been discussing and that will probably come before the school board in the next couple of months."
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 618-239-2626.