A GLIMPSE AT OUR REGION
Bradley County Schools: Phones are permitted and students are “expected to use them responsibly;” the policy also addresses “sexting”
Cleveland City Schools: Phones are allowed to be used on campus in limited ways; school principals have the authority to make those decisions as do classroom teachers in their individual classrooms
Hamilton County: Cellphone use is left to the discretion of the principal or teacher
Knox County: Use of cellphones during class time is forbidden unless approved by the principal
Sequatchie County: Cellphones must be put away and may not be used during school hours
Calhoun County: Cellphones use is permitted if a teacher authorizes them for instructional purposes
Chickamauga City Schools: Students may not use cellphones during class, school assemblies or field trips unless given specific permission by a teacher
Dade County: Does not have a cellphone use policy
Murray County: Cellphones be utilized as part of the instructional process as directed by staff members.
Whitfield County: Students cannot use cellphones during class without teacher or administrator permission
Sources: Individual school districts, superintendents and directors of school comments, student handbooks and/or district or school board policy
As students in France return to class this year without their smartphones, school districts across the Southeast are grappling with if and how cellphones should be allowed on campuses or in the classroom.
A new law passed this year in France bans students from ages 3-15 from using smartphones anywhere on school grounds, according to the Associated Press, but absent of state laws, cellphone policies in school districts around the region vary widely.
Many school districts, however, seem to leave cellphone use up to principals, administrators or teacher discretion.
In Hamilton County, there is no school board policy on cellphones, said district spokesman Tim Hensley. Instead, the policy is an administrative one.
"Each school sets its policy for cellphones. This was essentially changed a few years ago as personal devices became important in the classroom," Hensley said in an email.
Cleveland City Schools has a similar policy, which allows principals and even teachers autonomy over cellphone use.
"Basically, phones are allowed to be used on our campuses in limited ways spelled out in the policy," said Russell Dyer, director of schools, in an email. "The school principal has the authority to make those decisions as do classroom teachers in their individual classrooms."
Historically, as more kids at younger ages obtained cellphones and smartphones, many school districts outright banned them.
In Calhoun County, Georgia, cellphones and electronic devices may be used before and after the school day, but they must be turned off the rest of the time, per student policy. Whitfield County policy also bans the use of cellphones during instructional time without permission from a teacher or administrator.
When students get in trouble for having or using a cellphone at school, though, some parents are surprised. Many parents who send their children to school with cellphones do so out of safety concerns and expect to be able to reach their children during the day.
When Virginia Cairns' daughter had her phone taken away at Signal Mountain Middle/High School a few years ago, she said she was stunned.
"It was my daughter's first offense and I was stunned when I learned that they had taken her phone away from her for the remainder of the week and had it locked up in the school office," Cairns said. "I think it is ridiculous to take away a student's phone in this day and age. Many students work jobs, care for siblings or relatives, or drive alone very long distances to team practice or sporting events. These phones are their main lifelines to safety."
Dee Haas echoed Cairns' thoughts on safety. She always ensures her teenagers have their phones.
"I make sure my teenagers have their cellphones every day. In case of an emergency, they have access to that vital lifeline. It's sad that it has come to that but it is what it is," Haas said. "They both have the Life 360 [family locator] app installed so if the unthinkable was to happen I can track both of their whereabouts."
Educators in favor of bans say cellphones can be distracting, though.
"Cellphones are a love/hate relationship in the classroom. You can use them for certain classroom activities, but the majority of the time, it is a distraction," said Melissa Redlin, a biology teacher at Tyner Academy. "My classroom policy evolved from keep them put away, to now being locked in a closet during class. Kids can cheat or take photos of tests on cell phones, so I would rather not have them in the classroom."
Researchers also don't always agree on whether or not cellphones are a useful tool for schools with limited resources or a detrimental to education.
Richard Freed, a clinical psychologist and author of "Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age," told The Atlantic that cellphone use can have negative impacts on students.
"High levels of smartphone use by teens often have a detrimental effect on achievement, because teen phone use is dominated by entertainment, not learning, applications," he said.
A 2004 study by Stanford University found that "one to one" access to technology is most ideal for students, especially at-risk or low-performing students, but the study didn't focus specifically on cellphones.
A few schools in Hamilton County have one-to-one ratios of laptops or tablets to students, but most do not. Cellphones can fill that gap.
In fact, Metro Nashville Public Schools' cellphone policy urges teachers to encourage cellphones in the classroom.
"A teacher may grant permission for the use of these devices [personal communication and electronic devices] to assist with instruction in his/her classroom, and teachers are encouraged to integrate the devices into their course work. The principal or his/her designee may also grant a student permission to use such a device at his/her discretion," the policy reads.
Michelle Bettis, an instructional coach at East Hamilton School in Hamilton County, said she frequently incorporated both her own and student cellphones into lessons when she was a middle school math teacher.
"I frequently used the app Plickers to gather feedback from students. Students shared their responses with a printed card displaying four answer choices. Using the Plickers app, I would scan the students' responses through my cell phone camera. Since the only device needed is a cell phone, Plickers is a great tool for teachers who have minimal classroom technology," she said.
At Rivermont Elementary, cellphones are used to record positive behavior, said principal Jill Evans.
"Class Dojo is a positive behavior program [through which] students can earn points for positive choices," Evans said. "Teachers use their cell phone to record these when they are in the hallway, recess, lunch, related arts etc."
However student cellphones are not used to record the points.
Rachel Lucas also encourages her fourth grader, who attends Normal Park Museum Magnet School, to use her cellphone for a multitude of purposes, including academics.
"With today's tech, cellphones can have just as many benefits as a tablet and are cheaper and more accessible from a parent's perspective," Lucas said. "She is learning from an early age about tools to help her stay organized and be independent, such as the Remind App where she can communicate with her teacher I think it has so many potential uses in school since it's possible to control what they use and when they use it. I think starting earlier and with these boundaries will actually help with the phone etiquette that people like me who were teens/young adults when we first got access to this technology with no limits don't have."
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.