Schenectady County

Schenectady school district limiting student electronics use

The Schenectady City School District Board of Education has approved a new electronics policy permit

Schenectady students better put away those smart phones.

The Board of Education has approved a new electronics policy permitting high school students to use electronic devices only before and after the regular school day, during lunchtime and as directed by a teacher for an educational purpose.

Students in kindergarten through eighth grade may have electronic devices on their person but during the school day they must be turned off and out of sight in backpacks, purses or lockers.

In addition to cellphones, the policy also covers personal digital assistants, handheld video games, iPads or any future technology that can be used to capture and store images and surf the Internet.

The board made some last-minute amendments. The original policy was stricter and said that elementary students could not use electronic devices for any purpose on school premises, during school-sponsored activities or on school transportation. That was amended to say the devices could not be used for any “disruptive” purpose and not at all during the regular school day.

The amendments did not please board member Diane Herrmann, chairwoman of the policy committee, who was not present at last week’s meeting.

“I think they watered it down,” said Herrmann, who believes that elementary school students should not bring cellphones to school at all because they are a distraction. “Kids can text parents. Parents call kids in the middle of the day,” she said.

She said students who have a problem should go to the main office, contact the principal and use the phone to call home. “We just don’t need cellphones.”

Herrmann said she can understand why high school students need cellphones, because they have jobs and after-school activities.

In addition, as originally drafted, high school students would have been allowed to use the electronic devices in the hallway between classes. However, the board took that out and substituted the provision about using the devices for an educational purpose under the direction of a teacher.

The policy also prohibits students from sending or receiving sexually explicit pictures, emails or text messages while on school premises, at school-sponsored activities and on the bus. They also are not allowed to record pictures or sounds in places where other students would expect privacy like locker rooms or bathrooms.

Students who violate the policy can have their electronic devices confiscated. Teachers must hand them over immediately to an administrator. Associate Superintendent Gregory Fields said the district does not want teachers to keep these devices in the room and be liable for them. Fields said the school calls the parents or guardians of those students whose phones are confiscated, then, arrangements are made to pick up the device.

“I think we can live with the policy,” he said.

The board has tweaked its electronics policy in the last few years. In 2008, it began allowing students to bring cellphones, MP3, iPods and video game players to school as long as they were turned off during classes. Previously, those devices had been banned from campus altogether, which school officials said was difficult to enforce.

Superintendent John Yagielski said this policy’s adoption concludes the process of revamping stand-alone policies related to the code of conduct. These policies will be distributed into a booklet that will be sent home to families.

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