County and City high schools ban cell phones, CCBOE introduces new security features

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CULLMAN, Ala. – In July, Cullman High School laid out a new policy banning cell phones from classrooms, and the Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE) issued a similar policy statement of its own on the day before the start of the new school year this week.

The letter sent to Cullman City Schools parents said, “To establish a learning environment where teachers and learners are free from distractions, we will no longer permit student use of cell phones and personal electronic devices in the classrooms. All students have been issued a Chromebook to aid in the teaching and learning process. Students will be permitted to use phones as needed during their morning break time and during their lunch period. In recent years, we have seen an increase in distractions due to cell phones in the classrooms. Our goal is to create a safe learning environment, decrease cyberbullying, increase learning, increase student engagement and to provide academic, social and emotional support for students. Please discuss this change with your student and help us as we make this transition.”

In a recorded call to parents on Tuesday, CCBOE Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette explained the county system’s new system policy:

“Elementary and middle school students have already been asked in the past years not to bring cell phones on campus, but now we’re asking our high schools, as well. If your child does have a cell phone, we’re asking if they’d leave it in their vehicle or lock it in their locker and keep it. We want them to power it down and put it away during the instructional day.  They’re welcome to bring them in the morning if they need them, if they drive to school or whatever, and they can take them back out after the last period of the day.  But during the instructional day, we’re asking that all students power these devices down and keep them locked away.

“A few reasons for that: we’re going to cut back on our cyberbullying that’s began as a growing problem in America right now. The second reason is we hope it’ll reduce the disruptions of instruction.”

On Wednesday, Barnette sat down with The Tribune to talk about the policy. He noted an informal study done at Good Hope High School last year, in which students were allowed free access to their devices throughout the day, with teachers and staff keeping track of what happened. Between social media “dings,” texts and other occurrences, teachers reported an average of 52 events per class period.

Barnette’s Tuesday message to parents continued, “And then, the third reason is we want to better prepare our high school students to be college and career ready.  Many employers have shared with us that young people are addicted to their phones and they can’t do their jobs, and things like that, so we’re going to try to make a dent in that.” 

Barnette told The Tribune Wednesday that employers increasingly report issues with device usage affecting the quality of employees’ work, saying, “I talked to one manager of a fast food restaurant, and they go around and they collect the cell phones from every one of their employees in a basket and lock it in their office during their shifts. And somebody else had shared with me that the number one reason that they terminate their young employees is because they can’t put their cell phones down, or things they do on their social media, or things like that. So I feel like that we’ve got to help turn that curve, as well.”

New security at county schools, updated vaping policy

Barnette told parents in Tuesday’s all-call, “Most people have already heard about our Raptor system.  It’s our emergency management system that we have at each of our campuses now.  But one component of that is, as visitors and parents visit our schools, they’ll be asked to scan their driver’s license or any other government ID that they have, and they’ll do a simple background check.  And the main reason for this is just to keep our kids safe and make sure we know who’s in our building at all times.  So, that’ll be something that’ll be new on each of our campuses, so be patient with us as we roll this out.”

According to the Raptor Technologies website, “Raptor has the most reliable and up-to-date U.S. sex offender database check available. Every visitor is instantly screened against registered sex offender databases in all 50 states,” can check visitors “against custom school or district databases, which can contain custody alerts and/or banned visitors,” and can record information and check-in history for each visitor, as well as performing other functions depending on the particular package purchased.

On Wednesday, Barnette told The Tribune that the version of Raptor introduced by CCBOE this week includes three components:

  • Scanning of driver’s license or other official photo ID which begins a brief background check. Should an issue be identified, office staff will be notified immediately and discreetly.  Said Barnette, “It basically allows us to know who’s in the building all the time, and that they have a need and a right to be in that building.”
  • A student tracking and reunification system that will help teachers locate and account for each student in the school in the event of a lockdown or evacuation, and communicate that information instantly to the rest of the faculty and staff. The program will help parents locate and pick up their kids outside the school after an evacuation, and will let the rest of the faculty and staff know that the parent has picked up the student.
  • An emergency management component that will allow faculty and staff to communicate easily during an emergency.  This component also contains special features that will not be shared with the public for security reasons. Simply put, there are features of the schools’ security systems that bad guys will not find out about until they try something.

Barnette also addressed the system’s vaping policy, telling parents:

“The other thing is, something that we wanted to address this summer is vaping. It’s a growing problem with our young people now, and we want to encourage our parents to really talk to your kids about not vaping and not bringing any of these devices to school. There is their own discipline ladder for vaping now.  If they bring the devices or use any of these devices one school campuses, there will be consequences for that. So we want to encourage you to have this conversation with your children; ask them not to bring these devices on our campuses.”

Barnette told The Tribune that vaping has always been prohibited on CCBOE campuses and that the updated policy simply outlines the progression of disciplinary actions to be taken. It also sets forth more serious disciplinary measures to be used if a vaping device is found to contain any type of drug residue.

Videos of Barnette’s meeting with The Tribune can be viewed on Facebook:

Cell phones – www.facebook.com/CullmanTribune/videos/362700187739816/

Security – www.facebook.com/CullmanTribune/videos/663307347488152/

Vaping – www.facebook.com/CullmanTribune/videos/516815502424985/

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com