Tuesday, July 24, 2007



    (MADALYN RUGGIERO/Special to the Free Press)

    Paul Bath, 16, of Plymouth calls his parents while waiting for a ride after class at Plymouth High School on Friday. The Plymouth-Canton district says it has tough punishments for using electronic devices inside its schools because of growing concerns about safety, security and cheating.

  • photo
  • (MADALYN RUGGIERO/Special to the Free Press)

    Students like Te'Ara Brewington, 15, left, and Desmond Reese, 16, both of Canton, face tougher penalties if caught using electronic devices in school.

  • photo

(CNN via Associated Press)

YouTube contributors pose a question to the Democratic presidential candidates at the debate in Charleston, S.C., on Monday night.

Detroit Free Press

Crackdown in the classroom

Use a cell phone in Plymouth-Canton schools and you can wind up suspended

Plymouth-Canton Community Schools is getting tough on students caught using cell phones or iPods in school, going further than most districts in the state by punishing them with automatic suspensions for breaking the rules.

It's an unpopular move with students, but one that the district says is necessary to address a surge in violations of rules. The district says it tackles growing concerns about safety, security and students using electronic devices to cheat during class. And they expect other districts to follow suit

Instead of having the items confiscated and/or serving a detention, students now will be suspended -- one day for a first violation and up to five days for four or more violations.

"Will we have some people who will object? My gosh, of course. But if you look at the statistics, clearly you can see we've got to do something," said Bob Hayes, director for student services.

"This was not done capriciously. It's easy to punish. And punishment doesn't teach. We want to teach people responsible use," Hayes said.

Most districts in metro Detroit have policies similar to the previous rules in Plymouth-Canton, allowing devices on campus as long as they're off and out of sight, but officials in this Wayne County district believe they have good reason to bring down the hammer and suspend students instead of simply taking the devices away.

Hayes said the number of violations of the old policy prohibiting the use of electronic communications devices increased from 563 in 2005-06 to 1,374 in 2006-07. The surge, he said, is a sign that the previous penalties weren't enough of a deterrent.

Dealing with cheating

Cheating is one of the major reasons cited in a letter the district sent to summer school parents, and it is an area of increasing concern.

The Josephson Institute for Ethics in Los Angeles, in its annual report on ethics among American youth, reported that 60% of the 36,000 students surveyed in 2006 said they had cheated during a test at school within the previous 12 months; 35% said they had done so two or more times.

How often students use electronic devices to cheat is unknown.

Patrick Fitzpatrick, an assistant principal at Salem High School, said about 4% of the referrals he gets about students violating the policy on electronic devices are because they've been caught using the devices to cheat. Fitzpatrick is one of six assistant principals at the district's three high schools who handle discipline.

Savvy students can have their cell phones in their pocket and text message test answers to a friend, or ask a friend to give them an answer to a question. An iPod also can be used to cheat. Hayes said he's heard of students downloading difficult math or science formulas onto their iPods, then listening to the formulas during a test.

How do they avoid getting caught? They can hide the iPod in a pocket or under their clothing, snake the earphone cord through their shirt and cover the earpiece with a shirt collar, a hoodie or their hand.

Students are mixed about whether cheating is enough of a concern to warrant tougher penalties. Jing Guan, 17, of Canton, a junior at Plymouth High School, said she's seen students cheat by text-messaging answers to a test.

"Some kids are guilty, but they're treating everyone like they're guilty," Jing said.

But Brad Sullivan, a junior from Canton, said he doesn't think electronic cheating is a problem.

"Normally people cheat the old-fashioned way," said Brad, 16.

Michigan used to make this issue easy for schools. Up until 2004, all electronic devices were banned. But in 2004, the state left it up to districts to decide.

Safety and security

Local school administrators know how distracting, and disruptive, the devices can be, particularly in the classroom. One district, Southfield Public Schools, has more severe penalties for students who have a device that goes off during a class.

Safety and security also are key issues, Hayes said. If there were an emergency at the three high schools, and all students used their cell phones to call home, emergency workers would have a difficult time getting through to communicate with administrators.

Another concern, Hayes said, is that students have used their phones to text message or call each other to meet up for an anticipated fight.

Students not happy about it

Students acknowledge there is a problem, but say suspension isn't the answer.

"They need to get more strict, but they're taking it too far," said Scott Dreaver, 17, of Canton, a senior at Salem High School. He said he's had five violations and thought that automatic suspension would mean students will miss out on classroom work.

Students routinely ignore the rules, which are spelled out in the student code of conduct. Some of the students interviewed said that they never turn their cell phones off, and some acknowledge that they answer calls or text-message during the day. Some of the violations have been from parents calling their children during the school day.

The new penalties kicked in for summer school, but because of the abbreviated nature of the summer classes, a first offense got a three-hour detention instead of suspension. But while the message has clearly been sent, many students are still angry about it.

"There's not a day that goes by that people don't complain about it," said Lexa Dilmore, 16, a junior at Plymouth High School.

Contact LORI HIGGINS at 248-351-3694 or lhiggins@freepress.com.

Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

Detroit Free Press

YouTube revolutionizes debate

Democrats field online questions

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Young, Internet-savvy voters challenged Democratic presidential hopefuls on gun control, the military draft and the candidates' place in a broken political system, playing starring roles in a provocative, video-driven debate Monday night.

"Wassup?" came the first question, from a voter named Zach, after another, named Chris, opened the CNN-YouTube debate with a barb aimed at the entire eight-candidate field: "Can you as politicians ... actually answer questions rather than beat around the bush?"

The answer was a qualified yes. The candidates faced blunt questions -- from earnest to the ridiculous -- and, in many cases, responded in kind.

To Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois: Are you black enough? "You know, when I'm catching a cab in Manhattan ... I'm giving my credentials," he replied.

To Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York: Are you feminine enough? "I couldn't run as anything other than a woman," she said, drawing a challenge from former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who said he was the best women's advocate onstage.

One voter asked whether young women should register for the draft. Clinton, Obama and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut said yes.

The debate featured questions submitted to the online video community YouTube and screened by CNN. A talking snowman, two rednecks and a woman speaking from her bathroom were among the twists to the oldest forum in politics: debate.

A Clio man asked about gun control while brandishing a firearm.

"He needs help," Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware snapped.

Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

No comments: