Formal Rules for Students and their Devices at School


As we continue to work with public and private schools around the nation, we see much variability in the formal policies in place related to student-owned electronic devices and their display and use on campuses. Some schools have simply elected to ban all netbooks, tablets and iPads, laptop computers, smartphones (e.g., iPhones, Blackberrys, Evos), Nintendo DSis, and other portable electronic devices that are Web-enabled in some capacity. These actions have lead to criticism by some parents, who say they need to be able to contact their kids in the case of an emergency – and who don’t want educators to handle or look through expensive personal items that aren’t theirs in the first place. It can also be very difficult to enforce a complete ban without searching all students as they enter the school each day.

A better approach may be to have clearly specified guidelines for when and where the devices are allowed and what will happen if a student is caught using a device at a prohibited time or place. The following is a list of rules that you may want to consider. Please note that this list is a “work in progress” and presented for the purposes of fostering discussion on the topic, rather than as a formal recommendation from our Research Center.

Possible Rules for Portable Electronic Devices at School

Portable electronic devices include – but are not limited to – laptops, cell phones, personal data assistants, portable electronic games, digital audio players, digital cameras, and gaming wristwatches.

1. Students must have all portable electronic devices turned off during the school day except during prescribed times (e.g., the lunch period).

2. No portable electronic device may be visible during the school day except during prescribed times (e.g., the lunch period).

3. Students are not allowed to use any device to photograph or record (either in audio or video format) another person on school property at any time without that person’s permission. Students should use our anonymous reporting system/form (NOTE: You, the reader, should create one for your school or district!) to let us know when you see violations of this rule.

4. Portable electronic devices are not allowed in any classroom, bathroom, or locker room.

5. Any unauthorized use of portable electronic devices will lead to confiscation.

6. Any confiscated portable electronic device may be searched by parents or law enforcement as necessary. (NOTE: They may not, but they may – it is not necessary to get into the specifics of this in your formal policy).

7. Students who violate this policy may also be subject to disciplinary action as noted in the Student Handbook.

To be sure, we have also discussed how some districts require parents to retrieve confiscated phones (instead of handing them back to the student) – and also require a nontrivial fine to be paid (typically between $15 and $25). I also know of schools where a rule violation leads to phone confiscation for five school days (for example, if the phone is confiscated on a Thursday, it is returned the following Wednesday). This, of course, is a significant loss since many teens *need* their cell phones on the weekends – and parents need their teens to have a cell phone to reach them when they are out and about on the weekends. If the student resists giving up the phone, it becomes ten days. Our readers might find that excessive, but youth need to internalize the reality of consequences that have teeth to them.

What is your school doing? Has it worked in reducing cyberbullying and other inappropriate uses of these devices on campus? What might be added to this list? We look forward to hearing input from those of you on the front lines of this complicated issue.

1 Comment

  1. The suicide of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, in September of 2010 received national media attention. The suicide was a result of a cyberbullying incident during which two peers at the university used a webcam to stream Tyler's sexual encounter with another male at the school in his own dorm room. This live stream caused a tremendous amount of embarrassment for Tyler, who posted on his facebook page the next day that he was going to jump of the George Washington Bridge, and subsequently took that action and his own life because of the pain caused by the bullying.

    As educators, most of us feel that the best way to overcome a problem is to communicate with one another, to share our experiences, and to learn from those moments. In the wake of Tyler Clementi's tragic death, Rutgers University set up "Project Civility". This two-year, University-wide dialogue aims to bring together students, faculty, administrators, staff, and community members. The questions to be answered in this endeavor are as follows, "Who are we? How are we getting along with each other? How might we improve the quality of our day-to-day interactions?" Rutgers has been tackling these questions through student-led activities, lectures, and discussions. The project was kicked off with a video short created by students at the University interviewing other students about their current views about civility. This was followed by a number of lectures from faculty and visiting professors, training for Resident Hall Association workers, discussions on the use and misuse of technologies, and open forums for discussions.

    It is unfortunate that a tragedy has prompted some very important lectures and discussions, but at the same time encouraging, as we as educators aim to prevent history from repeating itself in our own educational settings. It is essential to open these lines of communications. In an era of high-stakes testing and ever-lessening instructional freedom, it is essential that we keep our fingers on the pulse of our students. The numbers are staggering as to how few kids come forward and report cyberbullying when compared to the number of students that experience it. By framing the issue in terms of civility, Rutgers has broadened the scope of the topic, while still setting up lectures and discussions that center on the way in which technology has changed our relationships and how it can be misused. I feel that this is a wonderful model that can be brought into the realm of the public school. Communication leads to education and right now our lines of communication on this topic seem to be very narrow. We need to give our students a voice and it certainly can be done. In fact, I just watched some "public service announcement" videos posted by students, addressing the cyberbullying issue. Activities like these that students can latch onto can lead to some real conversations in the classroom and will help to engage the school community in forming a more civil place to coexist.

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