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HCISD aims to curb cell phone problems with $10 fee

By hitting the pocketbooks of secondary school students and parents, Hays CISD leaders Monday approved a policy change they believe could curb cell phone distractions in the classroom.

The change, approved by a 5-2 vote from the HCISD Board of Trustees, would require a $10 fee to be paid by a student or parent if an electronic device is confiscated for violation of the district’s telecommunication rules. Money collected to that fee would go to charitable causes such as the food bank or district clothes closet.

The change is expected to go into effect when school begins Aug. 27, with the district offering a three-day “grace period” before enforcement. Trustees Michael Sánchez and Willie Tenorio voted against the policy change.

Eric Wright, Hays CISD superintendent, said the item came up after the district sought student input on the matter, with many believing cell phones are more of a hindrance and a distraction than used as a research tool.

From there, Hays CISD officials met with secondary campus principals and assistant principals, followed by  meetings with teachers to gather more information on the issue.

Wright said a change of practice was needed to ensure cell phones “aren’t a distraction at the secondary level.” Educators also advocated for the policy change in order to give consequences “more teeth.”

Current Hays CISD policy, per the district parent-student handbook, requires students to engage in digital citizenship, which promotes use of devices for learning, productivity and collaboration. Consequences for violation of policy, such as texting or accessing social media sites in a non-instructional nature, can include confiscation of the device, with a parent needed to pick it up at no cost.

However, David Pierce, Hays High principal, said cell phones are becoming a more prevalent distraction in the classroom. While he supported use of devices when appropriate, Pierce said it also shouldn’t be a “free-for-all,” which he believes it has become.

Pierce supported the fee and believed it could work. He cited a successful $15 fee for confiscated phones when he first arrived at Hays High several years ago.

“It’s not just a problem at Hays High, but a problem at every school,” Pierce said.

Board Secretary Vanessa Petrea said she was “excited” the district was placing teeth into the policy, citing issues teachers have been having in the classroom. Petrea also realized the possibility of frustrations from parents, later adding she’d support teachers who might receive pushback. Board President Merideth Keller said cell phones are an “addiction” and are an issue in classrooms.

But Tenorio didn’t believe a fee was the right solution, adding it should only be a last resort.  He advocated for other avenues, such as community service, to enforce the district’s cell phone use policy without a fee. Sánchez said the fee could have a negative impact on families who might not be able to afford it.

Trustee Will McManus said more attention could be focused in the future on non-monetary consequences.

“Some kids won’t mind handing over $10, but if you take time out of their day, it might make more impact,” McManus said.

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