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Policy Pitch for Preventing Mobile Misuse

A new study from the University of San Diego's Center for Education Policy and Law crafts two model student discipline policies—a short and a long version—to guard against student misuse of student-owned and district-owned mobile devices.

The policies are designed to give guidance to schools that are considering how to allow greater use of mobile devices while at the same time guarding against abuses like cheating, sexting, and cyberbullying, according to an e-mail to Education Week from researcher Frank Kemerer.

The report also includes a recommended district policy to aid educators in discipline enforcement, free speech and privacy concerns pertaining to student misuse of their own devices, and resources to help educators learn about student device use.

The short version (2 pages) lists, in order, what qualifies as a mobile device (or, to use the study's term, electronic communication device), when school rules governing device use apply, what kinds of behaviors are defined as misuse, when misuse on a student's own personal time still falls within a school's jurisdiction, and what consequences schools may enforce.

Activities defined as misuse on school grounds included refusal to turn off a device when instructed by a teacher, damaging a school-owned device, causing a disruption, cheating or bullying via electronic communication, or the sending or receiving of pictures or videos of a sexual nature. When those activities on students' personal time, they could still be considered punishable if they both caused significant harm or disruption at school, and the offender should have reasonably suspected such harm would occur.

The long version (3+ pages) more specifically emphasizes different types of misuse, the right of school personnel to search student-owned devices, and more specific standards for improper use during students' personal time.

Both suggested policies are based upon California state law, but both state and federal free speech rulings were reviewed as part of their creation, Kemerer's e-mail says. The suggestions are likely to be welcomed from many experts I talked to earlier this fall for a Digital Directions story on student-owned devices. They indicated that some sort of centralized policy guidelines would help small districts transition from restrictive cellphone policies to ones in which mobile devices are used more freely in schools.

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