Texting and picture messaging are so prevalent in schools, some administrators are trying to fight technology with technology.
Dade County, Ga., Superintendent Patty Priest said the school system is looking into cell phone detectors that would alert teachers whenever calls are made or messages are sent.
Earlier this month, the Dade County Board of Education discussed purchasing cell phone jammers to scramble cell signals at the Dade County High School, but after the meeting Ms. Priest learned the scramblers are prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission.
"It's just trying to deal with the problem," said Ms. Priest.
Many schools across the Tri-state region don't allow students to use phones during the day. Some, however, including Red Bank High School, allow students to use their phones only during breaks or before or after class.
Red Bank Principal Gail Chuy said she hopes allowing cell phone use during lunch will cut down on texting in class, but she acknowledged that, if students want to text, they can probably beat the system.
"We were all teenagers and we were going to find ways to get around things," she said.
Many Hamilton County schools have adopted a policy where an offending student's phone is confiscated for 10 days after the first violation, 20 days after the second time, and the remainder of the school year for the third offense.
"If you're sending text messages, you're not going to be listening to the instruction going on," said Chris Chambers, coordinator of student services for Walker County Schools in Georgia. Mr. Chambers said the school system allows students to use cell phones on campus before and after school, but staff members confiscate phones if they are used during school hours.
Mr. Chambers and other officials said they are concerned that phones will distract students and can facilitate new forms of cheating. Former Bradley Central High student Tyler Geren said he has seen both firsthand.
Now a senior at Tennessee Temple University, Mr. Geren said cell phones are everywhere at the high school and college level. In a phone interview Wednesday, he confessed that, during his freshman year at Bradley Central High School, he texted his mother, asking for help on a test question. He didn't say whether she'd answered.
"I hate to say I have used it, but that's the way it is," he said.
Administrators such as Johnny Grimes, curriculum director in Marion County, Tenn., say cell phones have gotten so small and the students so familiar with the devices, they can secretly send messages from inside a pocket, purse or backpack.
"They can text without even looking at it," Mr. Grimes said.
That makes detection difficult, which is why Ms. Priest is steering the Dade system toward electronic detection.
She said one of the systems she has examined clips to a teacher's belt like a pager and buzzes whenever a message is sent from a phone inside the classroom. Another looks more like a metal detector wand and can be waived over a student to find a phone, she said.
The pager costs about $850, so teachers might rotate them to different classrooms for maximum efficiency if the system can't afford enough to go around, Ms. Priest explained.
Mr. Geren said he would support detectors or some anti-phone technology in high schools.
"I don't think the maturity level is there for high schoolers to use (phones in class) yet," Mr. Geren explained.
He said phones provide extra security for students and can help them access information quickly as long as it's at the proper time and place.
"It can be used for good," he said. "It's just how you use it."
How cell jammers work:
Cell signal jammers produce a barrage of "noise" on the frequencies that cell phones use to send and receive information. The Federal Communications Commission prohibits the use of the devices in the United States, but some military and police units use them to prevent cell-phone-detonated explosives from being triggered.
Currently, legislation is headed for Congress that would allow the use of the scramblers in prisons to prevent inmates from using cell phones that have been smuggled in.
Source: Mark Monahan, Antenna Systems and Solutions