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December 07, 2011
Representatives from the Gilford High School Student Council appeared before the school board Monday night to present their case for a new policy regarding cell phone use.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Student Council President Rachel Sanborn proposed that the current ban on cell phones be lifted, and that students be permitted to have the devices on their persons during the school day, so long as the phones are turned to "Silent" mode.

Under the new policy proposed by Sanborn, teachers and students would also be permitted to introduce cell phones into the classroom by making use of the many educational applications now available on the market, which she and other Council members argued would enable students who might not have access to a computer to take advantage of the wealth of information available on the Internet.

During lunch, students would be permitted to use their cell phones for texting, since (in Sanborn's view) they are on their own time at that point. They would not, however, be permitted to talk on their phones during lunch periods, since that would be akin to talking over a meal at a restaurant — behavior that most would consider rude.

Among the 'pros' outlined by Council members were improved contact between students and their parents, teachers, and coaches, and access to cell phone applications such as calendars and the World Clock that would help students better organize their schedules and provide educational opportunities.

Addressing some of the arguments against allowing cell phone use in schools, Council members suggested that the possible distraction phones might create could be solved by only permitting their use at certain times. Cheating could be avoided, they said, by enabling teachers to collect cell phones before an exam, and the possibility of cyber-bullying, they argued, could be handled under the high school's existing anti-bullying policy.

Sanborn reported that she had interviewed administrators at Laconia and Inter-Lakes High Schools, and found that after instituting new policies allowing students to have cell phones, both schools had actually seen a reduction in cell phone use, and had experienced no major disciplinary issues.

Board Chairman Kurt Webber, who initially brought forward the idea of re-visiting the high school's cell phone policy, said he was in favor of lifting the ban, commenting that with the rise in cell phone use among teens over the past few years, he felt it was "inevitable" that the board would have to consider permitting their use at some point.

Seeing that other board members had reservations about the proposed changes, Superintendent Kent Hemingway explained that the Student Council was not requesting an immediate change in policy, but rather, a "trial period" during which the existing policy could be waived.

After discussing the matter at length, the board agreed to refer the matter to the Policy Committee, which will hear from school administrators at its next meeting, discuss the proposed changes, and present the board with their recommendation on whether or not to proceed with the trial period on Jan. 3. If the trial period goes forward, it would begin around Martin Luther King Day and end around February vacation, giving the administration and the board time to gather enough data on the effectiveness of the changes to draft a final policy that would be put forward for adoption in March.

In other business Monday evening, Hemingway reported that after holding a number of phone conversations and meetings with district officials in Belmont concerning the possibility of a cooperative football program between the two districts, he and the Gilford board had determined that they are "not in a position to pursue" a cooperative program at the present time.

"The ball's in Belmont's court," Webber added, suggesting that the Belmont residents who appeared at last month's Gilford board meeting to make their case for a cooperative program reach out to the Shaker School Board.

Unless Shaker officials express an interest in the proposal, he said, "there's nothing we can do."

Klumb Environmenta;
Varney Smith
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