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Texting, cell phones a growing problem for high school staff

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By Geoff Hamill

Cell phones are one of the most convenient modern devices in the world today, but for many schools, they are also a growing problem.

Washington County High School Principal Leon Smith said his school has had some recent incidents, and many of them have stemmed from the use of cell phones and text messaging.

“We’ve had some situations where we’ve had a few more fights than normal,” Smith said Monday. “It seems most of them stem from some type of text message sent over the weekend or the night before, and many times to multiple recipients, and they get blown out of proportion.”

Smith said messages are sometimes confrontational, and when the students arrive at school, that is the first opportunity they have to settle the problem, and it becomes a school problem.

Currently, the school policy set for cell phones allows students to bring phones to school, but once students enter the building, the phones must be turned off. Smith said he sees that having the phones can be a convenience for students and parents in many situations, and as administrators, he and the other staff members at the school want to be as helpful as possible to students and their families.

“We think it’s a good policy to let them bring phones to school. We try to be helpful because we know some parents want them to call when they get to school if they are driving, or let them know if they need to be picked up after school,” Smith said.

School policy also requires that phones must be off and out of sight during the school day, and if they are in view, staff members will confiscate the phone. The policy is set by the site-based council, and calls for a student violating the policy for the first time to have the phone taken away for one day and to be picked up by the student’s parents the following school day. A second offense will have the phone taken for five days and the student will be given one hour of detention. A third offense will get a student two hours in detention, and the phone will be taken for 10 days. A fourth offense will result in a day in Saturday school and the phone will be taken for 20 days, and the fifth offense will result in the phone being taken away for the entire school year, according to Smith.

Staff members can confiscate phones, but Smith said students are often creative when it comes time to have their phones taken away. He said often students will bring a dead phone that is not active, then when caught using their phone, will quickly exchange the dead phone and give it to the staff member while keeping their active working phone.

“It’s not just our school, but across the state and the nation, cell phones are becoming more of a problem when they are used to send rumors, hateful messages, or even details about where and when other students may get into a fight,” Smith said. “I’m afraid parents don’t realize the seriousness of cell phones in a school building. The cell phone is meant for good, but some teens have turned it into something that could be dangerous.”

It’s not just text messages, but also photos that are a growing concern for school staff members when it comes to cell phones. A new trend known as “sexting” involves a sexually explicit photo being sent via cell phone, and Smith said he sees more explicit messages each day as phones are confiscated.

“I’m blown away with the types of messages some of these kids are sending. We don’t take phones to read text messages, but some are willing to review messages with us, and the language and context some of the things are being said in these messages is so inappropriate. Parents really need to be aware what their teens are sending and receiving on their phones.”

Smith said the past few days have  been better than some of the earlier days of last week, but police have been on the campus to help keep things in order. Kentucky State Police provided a trooper to serve as a security presence at the school on Thursday and Friday of last week, and the Springfield Police Department had an officer on campus all day last Thursday, Friday and this past Monday.

“The last week has been relatively calm with our presence there. It’s been beneficial that we’ve been there,” said Springfield Police Chief Fred Armstrong, confirming that his officers were at the school.

“I compliment Chief Armstrong and his officers. They’ve been so cooperative in helping and supporting our building this week,” Smith said. “We’ve had some issues, but the worst day for us is the best day for a lot of schools. We’ve had some fights, and in one, several kids were involved. Some got excited, and others were scared. I’d say 95 percent of our kids want to be here, learn and have good days. Unfortunately, we’ve got 40 or 50 who don’t want to be here, and they will do whatever they can to disrupt things.”

Those disruptions might slow down following a new policy enacted at the high school after Smith, Armstrong and KSP have decided that students fighting in school will now be charged with 4th Degree assault and disorderly conduct. In addition, Smith said students involved in fights will be suspended for a time length to be determined based on the severity of the incident. In addition, if charged, students will also be banned from attending after-school activities such as sporting events, dances and proms and other events for one year. He said he and his staff met with the student body to inform them of this new policy, and he now feels things are taking a turn for the better.

“We want people to know we’re taking this seriously,” Smith said. “Education is high on our list, and safety is high on our list. We want and need parents to be involved in the lives of our students. That will help us and them immensely. We believe we are headed in the right direction.”