The Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education heard a proposal for new regulations school system officials hope will cut down on classroom distractions from cellphones.
“Quite frankly, students are great with technology, but they're not always great with the appropriate use of technology,” said Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Steven Johnson, who presented Wednesday night on the possible revisions.
The Department of Elementary Schools asked for feedback on the existing Bring Your Own Device policy from teachers, administrators and parents of third- through fifth-graders when drafting the regulations.
The revisions are out for public comment before the Board’s May meeting, and parents are expected to receive an email asking for their feedback.
In elementary schools, from the time students enter the building until the time they leave, they will be asked to silence cellphones and keep them out of sight.
In middle and high schools, students will be asked to store and silence phones in classrooms, the media center, gymnasium, bathrooms and locker rooms. Teachers would have discretion to allow cellphones in class for instructional purposes.
Students could use their devices during lunch, in the hallways and before and after school hours unless told otherwise by an administrator.
The use of cellphones on buses remains up to the discretion of the bus driver in the proposal, as it is in the existing policy.
Johnson said the term BYOD (bring your own devices) made it sound like the school system was encouraging cellphones and other devices.
“These revisions make it very clear that the decision of the cellphone is a family's,” he said.
When electronic devices are required for classroom work, the onus will be on the school system to provide them. The goal is not to turn teachers and administrators into cellphone police again, Johnson said.
‘[Having] a cellphone is not a criminal act. But it is a distraction,” he said.
Board members went back and forth on discussions about whether cellphone use should be allowed on buses and during lunches, and whether the middle school policy should be more similar to the high school or the elementary school.
School board president Donna Sivigny raised a concern that the bus policy was inconsistent.
Johnson said it is very difficult to enforce a cellphone ban on buses. If an incident does happen that need to be addressed, the audio/video cameras make it easy to review, he said.
“So if a student takes a picture of another student, or a student’s cyberbullying another student and we are presented with the evidence, we can deal with that as a school discipline issue,” he said.
Sivigny also asked about devices like smartwatches.
Johnson replied that “there are a whole bunch of things that we don't know how to address. .... What are we going to tolerate, what are we going to ban? I think it's gonna be very hard in the future to do that. I think what's really important is that we try to teach the acceptable use of, and the appropriate use of those technologies.”
Prior to the discussion, during the public comment part of the meeting, Zach Tomlin, who identified himself as a cybersecurity IT consulting professional, and is a candidate in the Hampstead mayoral race, spoke during public comment in opposition to the policy.
He said the school system did not have the ability to maintain security from predatory practices on social media when “implementing a policy of this magnitude” without consulting IT professionals.
Social media regulations for staff
The school system also looked at new social media policies for staff to give them guidelines for communicating directly about activities and accomplishments.
Carey Gaddis, supervisor of Community and Media Relations said, “[Social media] is allowing us to communicate directly about the accomplishments of the school system, the accomplishments of our staff, and to share events and activities and things that are taking place within the school system,” she said. “One of the things we love about social media is the fact that we don't have to rely on a third party to get the message out.”
They looked to other school systems in Maryland and Virginia as models when drafting the proposed administrative regulations.
Board member Marsha Herbert was excited by the future possibilities.
“We need to promote how great Carroll County is,” she said. “This is one of many tools that we can use.”
Carroll County Breaking News
“Before, we would have to rely on the media to look at our story ideas, choose what they want to cover. This way we can push out as much positive news as we want to, and we have total control over it,” Gaddis said.
Board member Tara Battaglia suggested that the school system look into streaming Board meetings through Facebook Live in the future to reach those who do not have cable TV access.
In the midst of budget season, as negotiations continue with the Carroll County Education Association — the union that represents teachers, guidance counselors and registered nurses — President Teresa Basler McCulloh spoke to the Board and superintendent. The CCEA members spilled out of the meeting room and into the hallway behind her as she stood at the podium.
The group wants to spur the school system to act to qualify for the Teacher’s Salary Incentive Grant through the Kirwan Commision bill.
Under the newly passed “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” as it is formally titled, if counties can show that they are increasing teacher pay by at least 3%, the state will pitch in an additional 1.5% boost.
“This is why CCEA continues to apply pressure until we reach an agreement,” McCulloh said.
Upcoming meetings include a strategic plan work session at 4 p.m. April 24, a budget work session 4 p.m. May 1 and a joint meeting with the Board of County Commissioners 1:30 p.m. May 2. The next monthly BOE meeting is set for 5 p.m. May 8.