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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Education

Claudia Cowan

San Francisco, CA

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Zero Tolerance For Classroom Texters

December 6, 2010 - 12:31 PM | by: Claudia Cowan

Just about every teenager has a cell phone, but they don’t always turn it off when they should. Now, schools
are cracking down on students who text or get calls during class. Under a zero-tolerance policy at Benicia High School outside San Francisco, a first offense means the phone is confiscated for the week. Repeat offenders could lose it for the whole school year. Keep in mind, students are free talk or text during recess and lunch. Just not during class.

Even so, Principal Gary Jensen has dozens of confiscated cell phones (as well as iPods and portable CD players) locked up in his office- including some that will stay there for weeks. He says while the kids don’t like the policy, most of the parents do, and agree that if their teenager would just follow the rule, they wouldn’t lose their phone. The policy is announced twice a day over the school’s PA system, and each student must sign off on a form acknowleging they are aware cell phones must be turned off during class. Jensen says it’s no good to have a policy in place, and then not enforce it, because, he says, “that’s not teaching kids anything.”

But critics complain taking away that critical line of communication for so long is unfair, and unwise. “You take that phone away, that young person doesn’t have an opportunity to call 9-1-1 so they can help thwart crimes, and call home if they need to,” says Dane Snowden of the CTIA Wireless Assocation. Other critics point out parents (most likely) need to keep paying the phone bill, and that it’s wrong for schools to confiscate a student’s private property that can, in dangerous situations, help save lives.

But others argue if the student gets busted again and again, the punishment fits. “The key word is repeat offender,” says school safety consultant Ken Trump. “If the school’s saying the kid has repeatedly offended, that means the kid knew the rule, knew what the consequences were, and they suffered the consequences.”

At Benicia High, students who refuse to give up their phones are suspended. In the wake of shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and most recently at a high school in Wisconsin, some parents say suspension is actually preferable to having their son or daughter out of pocket for long periods of time.

But for many repeat offenders, the inability to hang it up may be part of a larger issue. When I asked one teenager who got busted for texting during class if she’d do it again, her reply was “yes, but next time I’ll be more discreet.”

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