10:09 pm - Tuesday December 18, 2018

RI lawmaker seeks to mute cellphones during school

Robert Mayne sees the sly texters slouched at their desks. He hears the muffled chirps of smartphones tucked in bluejeans or backpacks. He worries a student might email the week’s math test to a friend in the afternoon class.

“They’re not just phones,” said Mayne, a high school math teacher at Chariho High School in Richmond. “They take photos. They text. They email. There are games, the Internet, Youtube. It’s not just one distraction. It’s dozens.”

Count Mayne a supporter of legislation in Rhode Island’s General Assembly to prohibit students from using cellphones during the school day. Some educators question how a ban would be enforced, and whether they’re waging a battle against technology they can’t win. But Mayne said a state law will give teeth to efforts to curb bullying, inappropriate photos, cheating and the myriad disruptions caused by cellphones in school.

Under the legislation students could still carry phones in school, but they couldn’t use them during school hours, including study hall and lunch. A first offense results in a warning. A second violation would lead to administrators confiscating the phone for three days. The third time, the phone would be kept for five days. Exceptions would be made for emergencies.

Sen. John Tassoni Jr., D-Smithfield, introduced the bill after leading a legislative task force investigating cyberbullying. The work led Tassoni to conclude that cellular prohibition is the best way to ensure students are focusing on a textbook, not Facebook.

“If a phone becomes a problem, then we’re going to take it away,” he said. “Not only are people using them to bully other students, but they’re using them to cheat.”

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