Lafayette to consider letting cellphones back into schools

Associated Press file photo -- Siri, Apple's virtual assistant on the iPhone, has its limitations, including balky silences and nonresponsive answers, but there are signs Apple is working feverishly to improve it using a form of artificial intelligence known as 'deep learning' to improve speech recognition by computers.
Associated Press file photo -- Siri, Apple's virtual assistant on the iPhone, has its limitations, including balky silences and nonresponsive answers, but there are signs Apple is working feverishly to improve it using a form of artificial intelligence known as 'deep learning' to improve speech recognition by computers.

Cellphones may find their way on to high school students’ back-to-school lists if the Lafayette Parish School Board approves a revision to its policy that would allow the phones to be used for instructional purposes and by students during lunch break.

The district’s current policy bans cellphones on all school campuses, a policy that’s been in effect for the past few years. The proposed change would allow high school students to have cellphones on campus and to use them before and after school and during lunch. The proposal also would allow the phones to be used in the classroom as part of instruction — if the teacher allows it. The proposed revision also would allow middle school students to bring a cellphone to campus but would not allow them to use the phones when school is in session. The proposed policy would continue the ban on student cellphones on elementary campuses.

Not all of the district’s high school principals are supportive of the change, though some view the policy change as a way to teach responsibility and use the cellphones as instructional tools, said Jeff Debetaz, principal of David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy. Debetaz served on the discipline committee that made recommendations for the revisions to the cellphone policy. His school enrolls students in grades sixth through 12th who have interest in the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math.

“As a STEM school, I want to teach students responsible use of technology,” Debetaz said. “I know it’s a change, and it will be a transition. I think we already have issues with cellphones, and we don’t want to create problems, but if it’s not taboo, then maybe it will be less of a problem.”

The proposed revision would not impact the consequences students face if they violate the policy and use the phones without a teacher’s permission. Students who disobey the policy will still have their cellphones confiscated for five days for the first offense, 30 days for the second and for the school year on a third offense.

The policy revision includes new language that says school staff are not responsible for confiscated, lost, damaged or stolen cellphones.

“We won’t be spending time investigating any stolen or lost phones,” Debetaz said.

Data on the number of phones confiscated in the 2013-14 school year weren ’t readily available Monday. The most recent data available from the 2012-13 school year showed 886 total violations of the cellphone policy from the start of school in August 2012 through the end of January 2013.

The policy revision is on the board’s agenda for its Wednesday meeting as a discussion item, and a vote could be taken on the change as soon as the board’s Aug. 6 meeting. Students return to school on Aug. 12.