Hillsborough schools consider tighter limits on cell phones

The phones cause problems despite a ban during school hours.

By Letitia Stein, Times Staff Writer
Published March 5, 2008

TAMPA - With cell phones increasingly causing problems on Hillsborough campuses, School Board members said Tuesday they want to look into tightening policies.

Hillsborough's rules prohibit students from using cell phones during school hours, but that didn't stop students from using text messages to spread the word about upcoming fights recently at Freedom High School. A St. Petersburg Times storyon the situation caught the attention of district officials.

Even confiscating cell phones can become an issue for teachers and administrators. Parents aren't happy when expensive phones and other electronic devices disappear at school.

"Cell phones do not belong in schools," said board member Candy Olson, suggesting that parents and students should sign a form acknowledging the policies. "There are too many opportunities for misuse and cheating."

Her colleagues agreed the problem needs more discussion, requesting input from students and parents.

In other business, the board clarified that speakers at their meetings do have the right to mention people by name, an issue that became explosive at last week's meeting. Board Chairman Jennifer Faliero said she misspoke in stating that no names could be used.

"I'm grateful that I live in a country where people can get up and say whatever hurtful, untruthful things they can, and we just have to take it," she said. "I also think it's a shame that some people abuse it."

At the last meeting, she ordered security to oust Lee Drury De Cesare, a political gadfly and relentless critic of the district. De Cesare had violated the no-name rule, and also spoke over the time limit.

De Cesare was back Tuesday, making charges about cronyism within the district, among other things. Also in attendance was the regional director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Rebecca Steele, who had concerns about the district's proposed civility rules.

Some of the concerns were alleviated when board members decided to request, rather than require, that speakers refrain from comments "abusive, harassing or threatening" and "racially, ethnically or religiously offensive."

"It's hard to keep people from being obnoxious," Steele said, noting that the board's guidelines remain somewhat vague.