Opinion: Why you should question the cell phone waiver

photo by Adrian Black

photo by Adrian Black

Jonathan Ryan

It’s always a good idea to read something before you sign it, though in our busy lives it is hard to read the entire student bill of rights, the JCPS Student Acceptable Use Policy or the Personal Telecommunications and Electronic Media Device Policy. I barely got through the titles themselves. If you find yourself at a loss for time and need to choose which waiver you should read, pick the one handed to you in your English class today or yesterday.

The Authorization to Use Personal Telecommunications and Electronic Media Devices (for the) 2013-2014 School Year (let’s just call it the cell phone waiver for simplicity’s sake) is obviously a necessary document. It wouldn’t be prudent to give students immediate free reign to use cell phones during school time. Restrictions must be set in order to keep students on task. There are some obvious points made in the waiver which are definitely necessary.

As we read between the lines, though, we may find that some points provide us with massive grey areas, and some are just flat out objectionable. I will try to take us through parts which, upon closer inspection, may seem to be questionable or ambiguous. We will piece through each part of the waiver and examine the word choice and implications (specifically looking at the denotation of some of the words used by the JCPS legal team) then you can judge whether you’re satisfied with this waiver or not.

First let us review some favorable things in the waiver. Point two states, “JCPS will not provide technical support in the use of such devices and resources such as printers will not be available”. This is an irrefutable policy aspect. JCPS should not be required to take care of your personal media device. That would be expensive, unreasonable and probably impossible. For a school of more than 2000, it would be absurd to try to hire enough tech support. This is crucial to the success of this new policy.

Point five states, “JCPS is not responsible for any costs or fees incurred with my service provider for any use of the personal telecommunications or electronic media device.” In some cases a student cannot afford to pay for the data that might be used when researching from a tablet or smartphone. If a teacher wants to enrich a learning experience with personal cellphone use, you may ask for an equivalent technological alternative. The principals of the eight involved schools stated that there would be enough to meet demand. Instead of JCPS paying for personal data, they provide the device.

Those points are crucial in a practical waiver. However, some points may need to be revised or omitted.

Points one and three state, respectively, “Personal telecommunications and electronic media devices may be connected to the JCPS Network only through the wireless network provided for student use.” and “JCPS utilizes an Internet filter that, to the extent practicable, blocks or filters access to inappropriate information while this user is connected to the JCPS Network. I understand that these technology protection measures will not filter or block access to the Internet on any network other than the JCPS Network. My child will not attempt to circumvent the JCPS Network Internet filter or to access any material prohibited by the JCPS Student Acceptable Use Policy.”

My current understanding of this is that you must be connected to JCPS wifi if you’re using a tablet or smartphone in school and you can only view the things that JCPS allows you to. Any use of personal data (such as connecting to AT&T or Verizon 4G or 3G) could be seen as an attempt to bypass the filter, placing you at risk of cell confiscation and search.

Speaking of search and seizure of your cell phone, point 6 states, “School officials may confiscate and search my child’s personal telecommunications or electronic media device if the school official has reasonable suspicion that the device is being used to violate the Code of Acceptable Behavior and Discipline, the JCPS Student Acceptable Use Policy or the law.”

There are some terms that we would like defined here. What exactly is a “reasonable suspicion”? When I questioned an assistant principal about who decided what a reasonable suspicion is, I was told it is whatever a teacher or assistant principle decides. Why even say reasonable suspicion if the teacher is the one deciding? Anything can be a reasonable suspicion to them, so we might as well say “at teacher’s whim”. A teacher could confiscate your phone and search it whenever it pleased them.

This brings us to question what search means. Does this mean a teacher can take your smartphone, unlock it, and investigate your history? Personally, I would not be okay with this sort of invasive search.

In conclusion, consider this waiver before you agree to it and think about what you give up when you sign it.

Article by guest writer John Biggs

Featured image from Flickr Creative Commons Library here