Though students can carry cell phones inside Oak Park and River Forest High School as long as they’re off and out of site, it’s a daily battle to keep students from using them inside the building.

School officials admit that cell phones are still a concern and have the potential to be misused. According to newly released discipline data for the 2008-2009 school year, there were 95 infractions for students violating the cell phone policy. School officials noted that’s a lower number than in years past, but warned that it doesn’t mean fewer students are violating the policy.

Two years ago, the high school lifted its ban on student cell phones, stemming from a policy change approved by the District 200 Board of Education. Cell phones were previously banned anywhere in the building, though many students had them and were disciplined as a result. Having a cell phone is currently a Class I infraction.

After lifting the ban, the school allowed students to keep them in their lockers or book bags but with certain restrictions; that they’re turned off and unseen. But school officials have acknowledged that the “cell phone culture” among students has taken on a life of its own. More students, they admit, have them now than ever before. Officials added that some adults in the building refer students for discipline while others do not.

“I think we are choosing our battles” said Janel Bishop, assistant principal for student health and safety, at last Thursday’s school board meeting. “It depends on the adult you ask in the building on if they address the cell phone issue. I still see lots of kids with their cell phones on their hips in their cases, which does not comply with the not-seen, not-heard rule. And many adults will give a kid one chance. But if they have to tell them more than one time, they may get a discipline referral for that.”

Bishop noted that it may have been easier to control cell phones under the old policy, but that the change was made because so many kids had them, and in many cases, needed them. Board President Dietra Millard noted that the change was made because of the potential misuse of cell phones for cheating or taking and sending inappropriate photos while in school.

Terry Finnegan, elected to the board this year, said cell phones could be abused but could be used positively, such as related to school work or assignments. Bishop acknowledged that students, and even adults, can use cell phones for a variety of good reasons, but still wants to keep them under control among students in the building.

“You can really do everything with your cell phone. You can take notes in class or record your teacher’s lecture,” she said. “We struggle with it because the danger and the safety concerns that exist still do. And while we don’t have a lot of issues, we have enough where I’m hesitant to back off from our desire to keep a handle on the possession of cell phones in the building.”

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