Pasco County Schools has adopted a new policy relating to wireless communications devices.
In essence, the policy requires:
- Students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade keep their wireless communication devices (WCDs) on silent mode and completely out of view for the entire school day.
- Students in grades six through eight keep their devices on silent mode and out of view throughout the school day, except for during the student’s lunch period, or when expressly authorized by a classroom teacher for a specific instructional activity.
- Students in grades nine through 12 keep their devices on silent mode and out of sight for the entire school day, except for during the student’s lunch period, in between class periods or as expressly authorized by a classroom teacher for a specific instructional activity.
As defined by the board’s policy, WCDs include peripheral devices such as headphones, earbuds and watches.
The school board adopted the policy at its June 20 meeting.
Materials in the board’s agenda packet note “the board is aware that WCDs are used by students and parents to communicate with each other. However, the use of WCDs on school grounds must be appropriately regulated to protect students, staff and the learning environment.”
The background materials added: “Whether intentional or not, WCDs can remove students socially, intellectually and emotionally from being present while at school or when involved with school-related activities.
“The district wants all students to have the greatest opportunity for face-to-face engagement with their teachers and peers, as not being presently focused can increase social and academic isolation issues. In addition, while the use of social media can be intentional and positive, it can also be used in a way that causes others to feel left out, judged, anxious and targeted. “Unfortunately, WCDs can also be used by students to initiate and perpetuate inappropriate and/or unlawful conduct that can disrupt the orderly operation of schools and jeopardize the health, safety and welfare of others in the school community,” the agenda materials say.
School board member Colleen Beaudoin raised objections to the part of the policy that prohibits elementary teachers from allowing students to wireless devices in connection with specific lessons.
But Superintendent Kurt Browning said, “There’s no need to have elementary school students with cell phones. It is incredibly rare that you will have a teacher in elementary school that is engaging kids on their personal devices.”
Initially, the superintendent said, “I wanted a scorched-earth approach — which is no cell phones anywhere, pre-K/12. That’s where I started.
“I became a little more lenient in middle school, which is grades six through eight, by saying, you can have them at lunch. And, in high school, I became a wee bit more lenient by saying you can have them not only at lunch, but also at passing (between class periods), but in no circumstances, will you take them out, whether you’re in first grade, or fifth grade, or sixth grade or 12th grade during instructional time,” he said.
The district is “spending an incredible amount of resources on support and supporting schools and curriculum,” Browning said. It has invested in instructional assistants, tutors and materials aimed at helping turn students around, he said.
“Yet, we have kids in some of our classrooms that stay wed to these things (WCDs),” Browning said.
But Beaudoin said she sees no reason to prevent elementary teachers from using the tool, when appropriate.
“I think we should treat our teachers as the professionals that they are and why would we take away an option from teachers who are using technology effectively?” Beaudoin said.
She thinks the policy sends the wrong message to elementary school teachers.
Browning responded: “At no time, when we crafted this policy, did I, as superintendent, or staff, want to impugn the professionalism of our staff or teachers in pre-K/5. That was never the case.”
Rather, he said, the focus was on the potential harm that wireless devices can cause.
Published on June 28, 2023.