Flagler School District Reaffirms Wireless Ban On Buses Even As It Encourages iPad Fever
FlaglerLive | November 22, 2011
They do it all the time anyway: they text, they listen to music, they watch last night’s clips from the Daily Show and quite possibly less tasteful hilarities, they make calls, they play games, they take snapshots and video clips, they update their Facebook status. In short, students on school buses do whatever their smart phones are programmed to let them do, even though it’s against the rules. The Flagler County School District’s code of conduct forbids students’ use of cell phones during school hours, including students’ rides on buses.
The rule controlling students’ cell phones is the same as guns in public places: you can have them. You can’t display them, or use them. If students either uses a cell phone or receives a vibrating or ringing call or text, the device is supposed to be immediately confiscated, and may only be reclaimed once a parent comes to school to claim it.
Last week the school board heard a proposal to relax the rule somewhat. A proposal before the board would have allowed students to use wireless devices on school buses to listen to music or text. They still could not use them to make calls or record videos, or take photos. The phones would still have had to stay on silent mode. But earphones would have been permissible. The existing rule, Conklin said, is unenforceable anyway. And wireless devices are becoming so prevalent that some allowances, as long as they’re not distracting to drivers, could be made.
The proposal failed on a 2-2 vote, with Sue Dickinson and Trevor Tucker voting against. (John Fischer, contending with the aftermath of his wife’s role in a fatal accident, was not at the meeting.) So the existing policy remains in full force.
The deciding factor may have been a long letter from Jan Pannullo, the transportation department’s training and safety specialty, to Katrina Townsend, director of student services. Panullo, who was also conveying Transportation Director Bruce Preece’s position, categorically opposed the proposal. Townsend read the letter to the board.
“The measure says drivers will allow texting, but not talking or noise,” Pannullo wrote. “How is a driver going to prove that they were making noise with the phone, making a call or had their iPod up too loud? We will write the referral and they will say they weren’t doing it? I believe students are videotaped much more than we know. Now that they would be allowed to have them out… I would expect this is going to happen much more often. Most likely, the drivers will just stop dealing with electronic devices until they become a huge problem. It compromises our integrity when we don’t follow our own rules.”
Pannullo also cited issues with cyberbullying–violence taking place in back of a bus while a student is videotaping it with a phone, for example, so the clip can then be uploaded to YouTube. “And, our employees too will feel that they are vulnerable to being taped without their knowledge. I think the Union would have strong feelings about this as well,” Pannullo wrote. “If this measure passes, I would like to see a disclaimer that we are not going to be responsible for them being lost or stolen,” she wrote, though that disclaimer is already part of the current policy. Students bring the items to school or to buses do so at their own risk, the policy states. When they’re lost, however, students on occasion report the loss to police, who follow up as they would with any matter of theft.
“I think there are many more issues here than just letting students “play” on the bus. It is our position that the bus is an extension of the classroom, and I think this step diminishes that definition,” Panullo concluded.
Ironically, the district’s push for technology in the classroom is one of the reasons students are more conversant with technology than they otherwise might have been. The district is now buying tablets (including $12,000 worth of iPads last month) and handing them out to some students to familiarize them with the devices, which are versatile, larger versions of smart phones that also enable much easier writing, editing and other forms of communication, as well as video taping, playing music and so on. Tablets make that “extension of the classroom” more real than ever. But tablets are still banned.
The board policy does not address tablets directly. It addresses the “wireless communication device,” presuming the definition to be that of a smart phone “and all other electronic devices.” The policy was written before the rapid rise in tablets’ popularity. It is a matter of time before the use of tablets spreads among students, who would use them as they would a laptop–for school work as much as for their own entertainment. At that point, it may become more difficult for the district to argue that tablets may not be used on buses if a student is wanting to use one to read a book or study (many textbooks are now available in electronic format) or do other types of homework. The board did not have that discussion when its tie vote resulted in a rejection of the more permissible use of electronic devices on buses.