I should have thought to smile!

Hey, big excitement at the Ridge/Ward house!

Rachel and I made it on Channel 3 news. The story aired on the late news, and was later placed on the front page of the WTKR web site. We had gone to a public forum at Norview High School to voice opinions about the Norfolk Public Schools policy on cell phones.

If I’d had any idea I was going to wind up on TV tonight, I’d have spruced up a little (and I should have smiled some).

The event was also covered by Steven Vegh of the Virginian-Pilot.

[9/29/2012 Edit: Video and page are gone from WTKR site, and a text recap of the story is here: http://wtkr.com/2012/03/14/parents-students-sound-off-about-cell-phones-in-norfolk-schools/]

Here’s the scoop: Unlike all the other cities in the area, whose school boards allow phones to be brought to school as long as they’re put away during the day, NPS has a complete ban which prohibits students from having phones on school grounds during the school day or during after-school activities (if the student is a spectator–not a participant–for an after-school event, she is allowed to go home and get her phone and come back, and use it away from the vicinity of the event). Security personnel regularly conduct searches of lockers and backbacks (and sometimes the kids themselves) looking for phones to confiscate. NPS has put together a task force to study the policy and present recommendations to the school board for implementation next year.

Rachel has been involved in forensics and debate at school, and has participated in some public speaking contests, and she got to put that to good use last night. (Perhaps she’s getting a lesson in civics as well.) I didn’t speak at the event, having decided to let Rachel speak for both of us (I planned to submit my comments to NPS online, but see below more about that). After the event, Alize Proisy, a reporter from WTKR, and her cameraman made a beeline for us. Proisy interviewed the two of us, plus a couple of others (only the footage of Rachel and me was included in the broadcast).

I was disappointed with the turnout last night, but I don’t think the event was sufficiently advertised (we also had a difficult time figuring out how to get in; having never been to Norview High before, we headed for the front door, which was locked, and which had no signage directing people to a side door). Roughly fifty people were in attendance, and twenty people spoke, and not a single one voiced support for the current policy. I really thought someone would have been there to defend it. The current policy creates non-compliance. I think it’s a squandering of resources (in a time of extreme budgetary shortfalls) to take security personnel away from more important duties to be searching backpacks looking for phones.

FWIW, neither Rachel nor I support the inappropriate use of cell phones at school. (A couple of students last night made compelling arguments for use of the phone as a research tool, and one can see the day coming when laptops and tablets will be de rigeur in classrooms, as they are in college classrooms.) Both Rachel and I support discipline and phone confiscation for those who use phones inappropriately at school. But NPS is the only school division in South Hampton Roads that has a complete ban in place, with a policy of search and seizure. Students’ backpacks are often searched when the students get off the buses, and searched in the classroom (taking away from instruction time).

Part of the rationale for the current policy is that students have access to a school phone to call home if they need to. But oftentimes they don’t (if they’re stranded on a bus, or away from the school building due to a bomb threat). Parents who try to contact the school where their students are involved in after-school activities (academic programs, sports, JROTC) find that the school offices close at 3 p.m., and there’s no way to contact their students–or anyone else at the school. One student from Granby High School said that one day when they had a blackout, all but two phones went down (in a school with over two thousand students enrolled).

Another student who spoke (who’d clearly researched the topic thoroughly) offered a wealth of information about shootings and other incidents at schools around the country (many of which we all remember hearing about in the news), and pointed how how it’s often a student’s phone that’s the first to reach 911 in an emergency. (See Patrick O’Donnell, Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Ohio school shooting: Drills, cell phone use paid off.”)

Although the search and seizure policy is said to be for the primary purpose of checking for weapons and other contraband, one parent who spoke had information from a year or two ago, and said (rough numbers here; I didn’t take notes and I’m not sure on the exact facts, whether she was using numbers from a particular school or the entire district) something like twenty-five hundred searches were conducted, turning up twenty-four hundred phones, eight knives, and a razor.

I’m not optimistic about the policy changing. Parents and students have been fighting this policy for at least five years. Although the parents, students, and teaches who came out last night spoke unanimously against the current policy, the school board put the rule in place, and I don’t think the school board cares about what anybody else thinks (since they’re appointed by city council, it’s not like they have to worry about getting re-elected–not that that seems to matter much with elected officials, come to think of it).

The NPS feedback web page (where people were told to “email” input on this topic) doesn’t seem to be working today, curiously. [Update: now working as of 9 a.m.]  Also curious: although the policy is spelled out in the “Standards of Student Conduct” pamphlet, I am unable to find any mention of the policy in the the “Policies and Regulations of the School Board of the City of Norfolk,” (approved January 1, 2012, Supp. No. 26), accessible from the “Policies and Regulations” link on the NPS School Board web site.

I wish we had known that yesterday. It would have been a good point to bring up.

[9/29/2012 Update: The cell phone ban has been overturned (except for elementary school students).  The new policy: Students in grades 6-12 may use cell phones outside the building before & after school. During the day the phones are to be turned off & kept in the students’ lockers. (Reference: Standards of Student Conduct 2012-2013).]

8 thoughts on “I should have thought to smile!

  1. It was very well written. Thank you for sharing it with me. Let’s hope more people complain … and that the school board will listen. It was nice to see your face finally, as well as Rachel’s. (My older daughter’s name is also Rachel!) Best regards, Donna

  2. Hi Friend,
    So you didn’t smile, but you still looked great tv 🙂 . But the topic was a serious one and your input on it is the same as mine. Let the schools spend money on projects that are more worthy of the taxpayers money. There may be many times in school where a student may have to use ther cell phones , I hope it will never come to that, but “The time they are a changing”. So let the kids who are going by the rules, keep their phone. Thanks for sharing with us. I didn’t see the News report and with your Bolg I am now in the know.. Keep up the great work.:-):-))
    Charlotte

  3. School boards are notorious for over reactive policies. As most go, this one is pretty mild but no less stupid for that. What a waste of resources – money, time, workforce, not to mention the waste of knowledge and information today’s handhelds offer but your district’s students are denied. Mobile devices are TOOLS for God sake! Apparently folks in your school sysem haven’t igured out how to use tools yet. Most politicians and the people they appoint have barelyh progressed beyond knuckle-walking. Perhaps you school board appointgees don’t have sufficiently opposable thumbs.

    Rules about appropriate use make sense but total prohibition is tantamount to spitting into a tsunami. Bet your board members would have been book burners back in the day too. All that reading did cause such trouble in the middle ages. Musn’t let it happen again 🙂

    • Aha! Insufficiently opposable thumbs…that might explain the animosity towards the texting generation.

  4. BRAVO, both Rachel and Eileen! I had no idea about the ban on cell phones at school until you wrote me about it. I’ll have to ask my granddaughter if her school, too, prohibits the possession of them—-or is the rule applicable only if the phone is turned on? I can see where texting should be prohibited, since it undermines the teacher’s attempt to hold the attention of the class. But for a student to have one available in the case of emergency seems to me to be an essential exception to the rule.

    Hope M.

    • As I pointed out to the reporter last night (didn’t make the cut in the editing room), if this was a new policy they were proposing, and we were considering the man hours it would cost to conduct the searches, confiscate the phones, contact the parents, etc.– not to mention the instruction time that’s lost, there’s no way this thing would pass. I do find it most curious that the rule is not stated in the school board’s own policy document.

  5. This was a very impressive presentation by an outstanding mother/daughter team. And it is so nice not to have to go to Bangalore to make contact

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