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Officials Proactive About Cell Phones

April 14, 2013
By J.W. JOHNSON JR. Marshall County Bureau Chief , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

CAMERON - When a new tower provided cell phone reception to Cameron last November, it brought with it the chance for better communication, easier access to authorities in the event of emergencies and an overall upgrade to the city that officials said was long overdue.

Having cell service also brought potential challenges and pitfalls, particularly for the area's youth. Having not known the freedoms of constant communication, the potentials for cyberbullying, texting while driving and the sharing of sexually explicit photos and videos increased.

Cameron High School Assistant Principal Wyatt O'Neil previously worked in another district where he saw firsthand the problems that cell phones can bring for students and a school district. He said returning to Cameron opened his eyes to how schools were before on-demand communication.

Even with the cell tower, O'Neil and Principal Jack Cain said at the new Cameron school complex, there are very few spots where students are able to get a signal. However, that didn't stop them from implementing a cellular phone policy they described as "ridged."

"If we see a student using a phone, we take the phone for a week, no questions asked," O'Neil said.

Additionally, if administrators or teachers see that a student was active on social media during school hours, the phone will be confiscated. O'Neil said while the policy has been met with some concern from parents, it has been successful in deterring students from using phones during school hours.

"Since we've been at the new school, I've only taken four phones," he said. "Kids don't want to lose their phones."

Despite the control officials say they have over phone use in the classroom, dangers still exist elsewhere.

To be proactive and let students know of the new dangers that exist at their fingertips, officials asked Marshall County Prosecutor Jeff Cramer to speak with students regarding those issues. O'Neil said the program, held in conjunction with the school's health fair day, was timed perfectly.

"The Steubenville (juvenile rape) trial was happening while we were on spring break, so I watched a lot of that," he said. "We've talked to our kids about it, but to have someone like Mr. Cramer, with the power he has, explain these issues was really beneficial."

Cramer said when doing a similar program at Sherrard Middle School, roughly 80 percent of the students had a cell phone on them. However, at Cameron, that number was significantly less.

"I'd guess only 25 percent or so raised their hands" when asked if they had a cell phone, he said. "Then I realized that they haven't had cell coverage in the Cameron area for that long. Texting and driving, texting someone in the same room instead of speaking to them, cyberbullying over the cell phones would all be new issues to them."

Cramer's presentation was interactive, as he sent a photo via text message to a student and asked her to send it to as many other people as she could, with those receiving it being asked to forward it to as many people as they could. Within 45 minutes, nearly all of the students had received the photo.

"I wanted them to see just how fast information could basically get to every student in the school as a warning against sending illicit photos of themselves or forwarding pictures of someone else," he said. "It would be interesting to go back in a year or two and ask them how many have cell phones. I'm guessing it won't take long until they catch up to the other schools, and maybe I'm old-fashioned but part of me doesn't see that as a good thing."

The talk also came just before the West Virginia Legislature banned "sexting" by minors. The bill defines sexting as any digital possession or transmission of sexually explicit images of a minor. It states that when a minor does it, it is equal to an adult felony level offense, according to the Associated Press.

Cain and O'Neil both said they will continue to be proactive with their cell phone policies. Cain said a recent visit to a school in Pennsylvania was an eye-opener as to how the situation could spiral out of control if not monitored.

"We were walking down the hall, and it seemed like everybody had their phone out," he said. "I asked what their policy was, and they said they didn't have one. I was shocked by that, and don't want to that happen here."

 
 

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