Fulton schools to restrict student use of cellphones, other devices

The state’s fourth-largest district this week announced new rules that will limit when students can use phones, tablets, Apple watches and other personal communication devices.

The new rules in Fulton County Schools will go into effect in August. The changes are intended to help students focus during class and come as the district faces a surge in disciplinary problems.

“Some of these devices have been very big distractions for our students during the day,” said Chris Matthews, assistant superintendent of student services, during a recent school board meeting.

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Elementary students will be barred from using phones during the school day but can have them on campus. Middle and high school students can’t use phones during class without the teacher’s permission. Phones may be used during non-instructional time.

Matthews said the district formulated the new rules after speaking to principals, teachers and other district leaders. He said they also considered input from parents, some of whom want their child to have a phone as a safety measure and so they can stay in touch.

In addition to other potential punishment, school staff may confiscate students’ phones if they break the rule. Confiscated phones will be released only to a parent or guardian.

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The district regularly updates discipline rules, though the latest revision comes as Fulton responds to an increase in behavioral problems such as group fights and weapons on campus.

“I’m really hoping that this makes a difference with some of our discipline issues that we’ve been faced with,” said board member Katha Stuart.

Another new rule explicitly bars students from recording a fight, inappropriate activity or another student or staff without permission. It also bans students from posting online videos of fights or other inappropriate content or sharing such videos with others. Students who violate the rule may be suspended for up to 10 days or face a longer-term suspension.

Matthews said that recording and posting such videos on social media breaches other students’ confidentiality, causes conflict and disrupts class time. Previous rules addressed the issue but were confusing, so officials created the new, standalone rule.

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A third new rule creates stronger language about behavior on school buses, including banning students from throwing items.

The district also will increase the consequences for bullying, battery, forceful abduction and teasing or taunting.

Several board members stressed the importance of making sure families know the new rules.

“The key part here is the communication, both to our parents and to our students,” said Katie Reeves. “This is in response to keep our schools safe.”