Mukilteo schools may check students’ cell phones

  • By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
  • Monday, January 24, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

Mukilteo may become the latest school district to adopt policies allowing administrators to check student cell phones for bullying or sexually explicit photos or messages.

The proposed policy, which would allow administrators to examine cell phones if they have reason to suspect a problem, is expected to be considered tonight by the Mukilteo School Board.

A similar policy, proposed by the Oak Harbor School Board, made headlines last summer when the America Civil Liberties Union of Washington said that it threatened students’ privacy rights.

However, the Washington State School Directors’ Association revised its model policy to make clear that a cell phone may only be searched when school officials have reasonable suspicion that a student is using a cell phone or other communication device that violates schools rules or law.

The ACLU said in a statement that while the school directors’ policy did not adopt all of its recommendations, it made significant strides in protecting privacy.

Granite Falls passed a cell phone cyber-bullying policy in November, based on the school directors’ recommendations.

The proposed Mukilteo policy also is based on the suggestions made in the revised state school directors’ policy, district spokesman Andy Muntz said.

Principals can search a cell phone based on a reasonable individual suspicion, much as they can search a backpack if they receive a report that it contains something dangerous, he said.

School administrators can take action based on reasonable suspicion because “schools are supposed to be a more protected place,” Muntz said.

The proposed policy covers a number of issues involving cell phones, prohibiting students from:

•Using phones in a way that disrupts classes or harasses, bullies or threatens other students.

Sending, sharing, viewing or possessing sexually explicit pictures, text messages, and e-mails on a cell phone while the student is on school grounds, at school-sponsored events or on school buses.

Using cell phones during the school day, unless there’s an emergency or cell phone use is approved by a school administrator.

School administrators may confiscate cell phones if evidence exists of a violation of the policy.

Policy violations can result in disciplinary action, including suspension or expulsion.

“Telecommunication devices are a long-standing issue within schools,” Muntz said. “They can be a disruption to the classroom.”

School districts throughout the state are adopting policies to address the problem, he said.

“Technology changes over time,” he said. “Policies need to be updated to accommodate the changes in technology.”

School board meetings begin at 6 p.m. and are held at the administration building, 9401 Sharon Drive in Everett.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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