SARASOTA — The Sarasota County School Board agreed to pull a policy that would set restrictions on cellphones next school year until the entire board can meet to discuss the policy.

The board made the decision at a work session last week after discussing the changes they want to make to the cellphone policy.

School Board members Shirley Brown and Eric Robinson did not attend the session.

School Board member Bridget Ziegler said safety is a major concern for families who worry about their children not having access to their cellphones in the event of an active shooter. She suggested the board should consider how the restriction could impact security once they review the policy again.

Ziegler said she also received feedback from teachers who were concerned about the inconsistent enforcement of the current policy, which requires students to have their cellphones powered off and put away. She said some teachers felt they did not have support from a discipline standpoint.

“They did not feel that they had that support from the administration and I think that’s a really important component because if you don’t have that of course their not going to enforce anymore, why bother,” Ziegler said. “So I think as the board we figure out what that balance is because if we look at the current policy, I’d actually be OK with it, if it was actually being adhered to.”

School Board Chairwoman Jane Goodwin recommended that the policy be reviewed every year.

“In schools that have restricted phones substantially, the kids are more engaged with each other,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin said the policy should limit cellphone use in middle and high schools. But felt strongly about banning them entirely in elementary schools.

“It’s not necessary for little minds and little brains at that age,” Goodwin said.

School Board Vice Chairwoman Caroline Zucker said teachers should ultimately have the ability to choose whether they allow cellphones in their classroom or not.

“This is a no-win,” Zucker said. “Whether you ban cellphones or you don’t ban cellphones it’s a no-win because based on the feedback that I’m getting from teachers and parents, some want (students) to be able to have them and some don’t.”

Ziegler said she spoke to parents about texting students while they’re in class, which she deemed was disrespectful to teachers. She said the board should work with parents to help them understand how this negatively impacts the learning environment, where she said students should be focused on their education.

“Parents are texting students in school all through the day and they don’t have to,” Goodwin said. “I know that there’s this issue of ‘Well, if there’s an emergency, I have to know my kid is OK,’ I get that, but these aren’t emergencies most of the time.”

The board will review the policy again during an April work session. The policy will be in place for the 2019-2020 school year.


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