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|Proposed policy would police wireless communication|
The Ouachita Parish School Board may adopt a new policy next month to establish guidelines for wireless communication between students and school personnel.
According to Gary Armstrong, child welfare and attendance supervisor for parish schools, cases have arisen in which students and school staff contacted each other inappropriately through different forms of wireless communication. He said it often involves a student contacting staff inappropriately.
"About 90 percent of the time, it's the students who instigate it and the employees get caught up in responding to them," Armstrong said. "It's a reality and something we live with daily. It's something that needs to be dealt with."
Armstrong presented the school board with the proposed new policy at the school board's meeting last week. Several board members wanted to review it before voting on it at its next meeting.
Armstrong said the proposed policy was not meant to limit communication between staff and students, but he believes something needed to be adopted to "properly guide our students and employees on what is acceptable."
If adopted next month, the policy would include penalties, which would range from verbal warnings to dismissal of staff and expulsion for students.
The proposed policy has been distributed to school principals. They have been asked to discuss it with personnel.
Armstrong said the proposed policy is complicated because it deals "with people's rights, the First Amendment and what's legal and what's not legal."
"Probably the most surprising thing to the committee is, to our knowledge, nobody out there has a policy that deals with this," he said. "I just find that hard to believe."
All school systems have "acceptable use policies," which deal with computers, cell phones and other devices.
"But when it comes to the bare facts of students and employees communicating with one another, whether it's cell phones, personal computers or social networks, we haven't found any policy out there," Armstrong continued. "So, we could very well be breaking new ground here."
He said the policy is something that is needed. Whether the school board adopts the policy or not, Armstrong said they will work to inform students and personnel about what communication is appropriate and what is not.
"We've had problems, and we continue to have problems along this line," he said. "If for no other reason, because of that, we need something to guide our employees and students."
Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber agreed that the policy is warranted.
"I agree with Mr. Armstrong that it's something we need," Webber said. "The main thing is an employee shouldn't contact a student and not want the parents or a supervisor to know that they were contacted. I think that's the general feel and the whole purpose of this."
"If it's something they need to contact a student about, then parents need to know about it as well as a supervisor," he said. "If nothing else, we can make our employees aware that we mean business."
Armstrong said it would be important to educate the school system's staff and students to make them aware that improper communication will not be tolerated. The policy would detail what communication can take place between a student and staff member, he said.
Armstrong said some employees working in the school system rely on wireless communication to talk with students. For example, there could be cheerleader team sponsors who need to inform a cheerleader who missed practice about certain plan changes.
"Even teachers at time have a legitimate need to communicate with students, and they can't always do it face to face or even with a phone call," Armstrong said. "We're not trying to take that away from them, which is a right they have … we simply want to encourage them to be sure they are doing this properly."
In the proposed policy, there is a guideline that says communication between staff and students cannot occur after 9 p.m.
The next regular school board meeting will be held noon, Tuesday, Jan. 13.