School seizing cell phones raises questions

The Samsung Impression

Jae C. Hong

Eric Roberts understands why Westview Middle School officials confiscated his daughter's cell phone when she was caught with it turned on during school for the second time.

What he can't understand is why they refused to give him the phone when he went to the school to get it back.

"It's personal property and I don't think the government has the right to confiscate property when no law has been broken," Roberts said.

The South Carolina Policy Council, a conservative think tank in Columbia, last week posted Roberts' story on The Nerve, its news website. The council's Kevin Dietrich, who writes for the group's news website, said the group isn't weighing in on the issue. But phone confiscation is "a freedom issue and our members will find it of interest."

The Berkeley County School District, which Westview Middle is part of, prohibits cell phone use in schools, said Rodney Thompson, the district's chief administrative officer.

This year, students caught using their phones the first time were given a warning and their phones confiscated. Parents could then pick up the phones from the school anytime. But if students were caught a second time, they were suspended for a day and their phones were confiscated until the end of the school year, Thompson said.

The Charleston County School District and Dorchester District 2 also prohibit cell phone use and confiscate students' phones if they are caught using them.

Thompson said the district has received complaints from parents whose children's phones have been confiscated. They mostly complain about being locked into contracts and required to make payments even though their children aren't using the phone, he said.

In response, the Berkeley district decided to give students three strikes next year before they confiscated their cell phones until the end of the school year, instead of two.

Starting in the fall, students caught using a cell phone the first time will be given a warning and have their phone confiscated. Parents can then pick it up anytime. Students caught using a phone the second time will have to serve one day of in-school suspension and have their phones confiscated for 30 days, Thompson said. Those caught a third time face a day of suspension and will have their phones confiscated until the end of the school year.

Thompson said it's important to enforce prohibitions against students using cell phones in schools because phones can be a distraction and they raise safety concerns.

Students could use them to invite outsiders to the school, or to create a disturbance in a classroom, he said. And some students have been caught texting test answers to other students and photographing a test paper, he said. "You name it, we've dealt with it with phones."