SALT LAKE CITY — The State School Board on Friday updated its rule on the use of privately owned cell phones and other electronic devices at school, requiring districts and charters to establish policies and conduct schoolwide trainings.
The board action comes days after a legislative committee hearing during which educators, parents and lawmakers said students with private data plans are accessing pornography on their cell phones or tablets at school or spending time watching videos or texting when they should be tending to their studies.
Still others said classes are frequently disrupted by parents communicating with their children.
During the Utah State School Board of Education's deliberations Friday, board member Scott Neilson, who is a high school teacher, said one of his students told him that he is on social media six to eight hours a day, "five of that at school."
"I was blown away and you would be, too," Neilson said.
Neilson said his classroom policy is that he will take students' phones away for the class period if they are used improperly. Parents are advised of the policy at the start of the school year in disclosures.
"I've never had a problem because parents already know," he said.
But there are inconsistent policies classroom to classroom, which it makes it difficult for educators to enforce rules, he said.
Still, something's got to give, he said.
"Schools should be for school, not five hours of social media," he said.
Earlier this week, the House Education Committee considered HB237, sponsored by Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, a former local school board member.
Pulsipher said she sponsored the legislation out of concern that "neither kids or parents know what the policies are," nor do school officials.
One school teacher told lawmakers adults are some of the worst offenders, which tells her they ignore the policies.
"Honestly, nine times out of 10, it's a parent contacting a student in my class," said Chelsie Acosta, who teaches at Glendale Middle School.
Others testified that some teachers collect phones before tests to prevent cheating.
Pulsipher said she was personally aware of a fourth grader who was exposed to pornography at school "and didn't know what to do about it."
"What we're really trying to do is help kids be safe at school," she said.
While the legislative committee conducted a full hearing on HB237, it took no action, which gave the State School Board the opportunity to address the issue in a board rule.17 comments on this story
The State School Board rule also covers electronic devices lent to students by schools.
The revised rule requires schools conduct trainings with students and staff within 45 days of the start of the school year. The trainings will spell out the policy, stress the importance of digital citizenship and possible discipline.
District and charter board policies must conform with state board rules, but the updates give them the flexibility to allow use of personal electronic devices for educational purposes while still setting restrictions.