A bill before the Legislature intended to combat bullying and cheating by limiting students’ use of electronic devices is unnecessary, according to some school experts.
Independent Rep. Michael Marcotte, of Coventry, has introduced H. 282, “An act relating to the use of cellphones and other portable electronic devices by public school students.”
“I hear, from our local high school, that cellphones are used to bully people, and that (students) use them from time to time to share answers on tests,” Marcotte said. “In the advent of all these electronic devices, there should be a policy in place to govern how they are used in schools.”
The bill calls for school boards to adopt policies prohibiting students from using electronic devices during school hours, but it would allow the boards to include exceptions during lunch, noninstructional time or at the direction of a teacher as part of a lesson plan.
Republican Rep. Patty J. Lewis, of Berlin, one of 12 co-sponsors of H. 282, sees the bill as a way to keep students focused on their studies.
“I think it has a lot to do with distractions,” Lewis said. “It creates issues when a phone is ringing in class, and this bill forces the schools to address this problem.”
Nicole Mace, associate director for the Vermont School Boards Association, lauded the sentiment behind the bill while questioning its wisdom.
“I would assume this was put together with good intentions,” Mace said. “I don’t think you’re going to get at those problems by telling students they can’t use those devices. We have to teach (students) how to use (electronic devices) in a responsible way.”
If the bill passes, it will not be the first time school policy has been dictated by government. Mace said there are 25 laws, state and federal, that command school boards to enact certain policies.
Ken Page, executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association, said the law is unnecessary.
“It seems, on its surface, that it’s well intended, but it’s something that’s being handled pretty well by the schools already,” Page said. “I don’t think there’s a school that doesn’t already have a written policy in place.”
It is unclear how many school boards have policies governing electronic devices. A brief survey of student handbooks found references to cellphones, such as at U-32 in East Montpelier, which states “a phone should not be on, visible or audible during class. Students should not expect that they may leave class to make a call. Preferably, cellphones should only be used during passing times or after school hours.”
Proctor High classifies cellphones as a “nuisance item” — along with radios, hand-held video games and laser pointers — and states they are “not allowed to be used during regular school hours. Such items will be confiscated and may be claimed by a parent or guardian.”
“Cellphones are here to stay,” Page said. “You know, when you tell kids they can’t have something, they’re going to want it all the more.”
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