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Pasco eyes loosening school policy on electronic devices

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Published:   |   Updated: February 6, 2014 at 11:18 AM

LAND O’ LAKES — Student use of electronic devices such as cellphones, e-readers and tablets has become so commonplace that the Pasco County school district long ago gave up the idea of outlawing the devices on campuses altogether.

But their use was limited to classroom activities led by teachers. Otherwise, they had to be turned off.

Now, though, that’s about to change.

On Tuesday morning, the school board approved on first reading a revised policy that lifts some restrictions on use of the devices while still prohibiting such things as sexting, texting while driving and photographing or recording others without their permission.

Devices that contain built-in cameras also are prohibited from being used in locker rooms, shower rooms and restrooms, the policy states.

The board must hold a second public hearing and vote on the policy a second time April 1 before the changes take effect.

The district’s current policy allows students to have the devices, but they are supposed to be powered off unless a teacher or administrator instructs them to turn the device on.

Under the new policy, students may use their devices before or after school, during lunch, in between classes, during after-school activities, at school-related functions and on the school bus, “provided such uses do not create a distraction, disruption or otherwise interfere with the educational environment.”

When class is in session, students can use the devices only under the direction of a teacher or administrator. Otherwise, the device must be turned off, not just set in a vibrate and silent mode, and stored out of sight.

Students who disobey the rules risk having their wireless devices confiscated, at least temporarily. In some cases, the device could be turned over to law enforcement if a law has been broken.

Many schools already have been promoting the use of cellphones and other devices in the classroom in ways connected with their studies. Some schools have been more limited in how they allow students to use them.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said at a board workshop two weeks ago that he originally frowned on the idea of allowing students to use the devices. His view changed after a visit to Wiregrass Ranch High School, an early innovator in incorporating wireless devices into school work, and had a discussion with the school’s former principal, Ray Bonti, who is now the district’s executive director for support services.

“He changed the way I thought about electronic devices in the classroom,” Browning said.

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