Schools' anti-bullying plan includes cell phone search

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by JAKE WHITTENBERG / KING 5 News and Associated Press

Bio | Email | Follow: @jakewhittenberg

KING5.com

Posted on August 23, 2010 at 10:39 AM

Updated Monday, Aug 23 at 5:39 PM

OAK HARBOR, Wash. -  Oak Harbor school principals may start looking through cell phones as a way to crack down on cyber-bullying and sexting, but some students and their parents in the Snohomish County school district say the proposed new policy is an invasion of privacy.
 
The district wants principals to confiscate and search electronic devices when they suspect students may be using their phones to harass others via e-mail, text message or by sending photos.
 
The policy would extend to messages and images sent outside of school hours if that content was then shared during school.

"We must have reasonable suspicion that a student is harassing or sending inappropriate things back and forth," says Dr. Lance Gibbon, Assistant Superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District.

Gibbon says the school district is considering the policy in response to a mandate by the Washington State Legislature. Lawmakers have required school to update their policies on bullying by August of 2011. The district is crafting the policy based on the advice of the Washington State School Directors' Association.

"We believe this is a good policy. It's about protecting our students," says Gibbon.

Some parents and students believe that cell phone searches are going too far.
 
"That's search and seizure to me. They're not law enforcement," said Doug McVey, 45, a father of two teenagers in the district told the Herald newspaper.
 
Marilee Scarbrough, the association's director of policy and legal services, said the policy wouldn't violate anyone's rights.
 
"It's not about administrators walking up and down the halls saying, 'I want to see your cell phone,"' she said.

The school district already has the authority to search a student's backpack or locker if a student is suspected or wrongdoing. The Oak Harbor policy would allow for searches "with reasonable cause" and parents would be contacted before the search took place, Gibbon said.

The Oak Harbor School Board had a first reading on the policy at its meeting on August 9. The Board could vote on the issue as early as August 30.

Josh McVey, a tight end for Oak Harbor High School's football team, said players at practice Thursday were upset about the policy.
 
"The general idea is that no one likes the idea of getting their phone taken away, period," the 16-year-old said.
 
Like his father, McVey understood why a teacher would take away a cell phone from a disruptive student during class. Letting administrators search it, however, could lead to abuse, he said.
 
"It's not the school's job to protect students," he said. "It's the parent's job. It's the school's job to educate students."
 

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