After years of cracking down on students using cellphones in the building, Oak Park and River Forest High School might allow limited use of phones or other electronic devices in permitted areas in the school, including classrooms, for instruction only.

This move is a continued softening of OPRF’s cellphone policy over the last several years. The high school banned phones outright in the building until the 2006-2007 school year when the policy was revised. Since then, the phones have been allowed in the building but must be off and kept out of sight in lockers or book bags. But the policy is often violated, school officials over the years acknowledge. Some students openly violate the policy, using their smart phones in the halls or other areas when school staff aren’t looking.

The recent policy change is part of an overall evaluation of discipline policies and procedures the high school has undertaken over the last several months. The school’s Joint Committee on Student Behavior and Discipline, composed of staff, parents and students, made the new policy recommendation.

The committee urged the school board to update the policy and allow cellphones and electronic devices to be used on campus during school.

Study halls, lunchrooms and the hallways between class periods would be allowed. The revised policy would extend beyond cellphones to include MP3 players, electronic pagers, handheld gaming systems and PDAs (personal digital assistants).

Smart phone use in the classroom would be for instruction only and at the discretion of the teacher. The new policy would prohibit phones or recording devices that might be used for cheating or taking photos of others in locker rooms or bathrooms. Bullying and sexting via any electronic device would continue to be prohibited under school rules.

The policy change would have to be approved by the District 200 Board of Education. Currently, cellphone policy violations are Class I infractions, among the least serious offenses in the school’s Code of Conduct. According to discipline data from last fall, there were 21 infractions for cellphone misuse, which resulted in in-school suspensions. There were 44 infractions in the fall of 2010 and a total of 81 for the entire ’10-’11 school year.

The committee looked at other discipline policies and procedures, including updating those related to stolen property of students. They also urged the school to continue offering alternative consequences to suspensions, such as counseling and tutoring.

“We did meet this year and focused on a few areas,” said Principal Nathaniel Rouse. “The biggest piece was questions and concerns regarding the cellphone policy. The other piece was looking at ways we can reduce the amount of in-school and out-of-school suspensions with a suspension reduction program.”

In the last two years, the school has enforced the program sporadically but is looking to make it more formal in the building moving forward, Rouse said.

“We wanted to formalize that and make it something that’s more consistent throughout our entire Code of Conduct, so any student who received any consequences, save something incredibly egregious like bringing in a weapon or something like that, we would try to provide some kind of alternative to suspensions, whether it’s proactive counseling or using different entities in the community,” Rouse said.

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