May 2, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 2

School board tables cellphone use, Fisher Building decision

The Cheney School Board tabled a decision on two pieces of business at its April 24 meeting, including a policy change already heard and discussed at a previous meeting, a somewhat rare move.

The “Students and Telecommunications Devices” policy was reviewed at the board’s April 10 meeting, receiving a first hearing. When brought up as old business for adoption last Wednesday, the policy ran into roadblocks, chief of which was language defining when it was permissible for students to use cell phones.

Under the modified policy, cellphones can only be used before and after school, during a student’s lunch break, “unless a school administrator authorizes such use or an emergency situation exists that involves imminent physical danger.” Cliff Smelser of the district’s technology services department told the board the policy is in response to a movement to allow students to bring and use their own electronic devices in the classroom environment, giving educators the option to allow such use.

School board director James Whiteley however took issue with the phrase “school administrator authorizes,” asking how the new policy differs from the current one. The current policy as described in the student handbook states that “cellphones, pagers and other electronic devices that are not directly related to the recognized scope and sequence of the class (such as mp3 players, iPods, etc.) is NOT allowed during class time.”

Students can only use these devices currently before school, at lunch or during passing time. For Whiteley, the modified policy was opening the door further.

“Because we can use our phones at school all day long and that’s a problem,” Whiteley said.

Director Rick Mount also had issues with the modified policy, which he felt didn’t provide consistency from educator to educator on how cellphones should be used at school. High school math teacher Nancy Runyon addressed the board by noting that she and many other teachers had a strict “put it away” policy regarding cellphones during class, but that one colleague told her it was the biggest problem he had faced in over 30 years of teaching.

“I want it to be consistent,” she said. “We don’t want to be pitted against each other.”

Several board members felt there was a difference between the policy and its enforcement. Further discussion revealed it’s likely various individual administrators treat the current policy in the handbook differently.

“Why would I want to implement a policy that’s not being followed?” Mount asked.

In the end the board tabled the policy pending further review and updates.

The board also tabled a decision regarding whether or not to surplus the district’s 84-year-old administration facility, the Fisher Building. During citizen comments, Gary Mellinger said there was concerns about the building being torn down.

Mellinger said the building was important to the community considering its heritage, and that it was the feeling of the alumni association that there were still economic uses for Fisher.

“We’d like that to be a mission of the board to at least pursue those,” he said.

Resident and CHS alumna Carol Campbell presented a letter to the board with several possible options for how Fisher could be used as a joint venture between the district, the city and community organizations.

“Our tax money bought and paid for this building,” she said. “I don’t need you to fix it. I need to save it.”

Mount moved to table the decision until after the board had reviewed Campbell’s letter.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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