Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for May 30, 2007

From the Chicago Sun-Times...

Rumors Fuel Scare, Spur Cell Phone Ban At High Schools

JOLIET, Ill. (STNG) -- Some students at Joliet West High School grabbed their cell phones when rumors began swirling.

Concerned about their safety in the wake of two shootings of teens in Joliet and the rumor of another shooting, hundreds of Joliet West students used their phones to call their parents or send text messages. More than 400 students got their parents to remove them from classes early May 18.

At least 200 students left Joliet Central High School early that same day after communicating with their parents by cell phone.

Joliet Township High School District's policy calls for students to turn off their phones and keep them out of sight.

On Wednesday, district officials mailed a two-page letter to parents about the "unprecedented, rumor-driven disruption of the learning environment" at both schools. The letter, signed by Supt. Paul Swanstrom and the principals of both high schools, emphasized that there were no real incidents of violence.

"The rumor mill, fueled by memories of the Virginia Tech tragedy and cell phone technology, was in high gear," officials wrote.

Rules for cell phone use at Joliet Central and Joliet West will change next year. On May 15, the school board approved a policy change that will require students to keep their phones in their lockers during the school day.

Phones of violators will be confiscated, they'll have to serve in-school suspensions, and they'll be barred from taking electronic devices to school. Swanstrom said the district's discipline committee recommended the policy change to address the distraction that can be caused by students using cell phones at school.

"We spend more time, more than we should have to, telling kids to put those things away," Swanstrom said. "The rumor mill thing that happened is a good example of how those devices can be misused."

Parents and students argue that cell phones are helpful because they make communication possible during an emergency. But Swanstrom said procedures are in place that would allow for communication with parents in an emergency.

"We have come a long way in making sure that our coursework is rigorous, and students need to focus on their education," he said. "They need to have as few distractions as possible."

In the Joliet Grade School District, electronic devices are banned and discipline cases are handled at each school. A cell phone is confiscated immediately, a parent is called, and the phone is returned to the student or parent when the school day ends, district spokeswoman Sandy Zalewski said.