Students will have to wean themselves from the cell phones many of them have had strapped to their ears all summer now that school has started again. With new technology in cell phones, such as cameras and text messaging, most school districts have imposed rules against the devices in fear of students abusing them.
Nationally, school administrators have dealt with students who have taken inappropriate photos of other students in bathrooms and locker rooms, as well as students cheating in class by photographing the test and sending it to friends, or text messaging each other answers.
"We first heard of all this at the university level when we heard of students text messaging test answers to each other," said Gene Evans, communications director for the Oregon Department of Education.
However, despite the national issues concerning camera phones and text messaging in schools, the Department of Education does not have a statewide policy on cell phones. Right now, rules on the phones are left up to school boards in each district, Evans said, which is exactly how cell phone companies want to keep it.
"It's up to the schools to set policies," said John Simley, a spokesperson for U.S. Cellular. "What the phones really bring into it is competitive rights: Parents have a right to be able to keep in contact with their child through cell phones, and teachers have a right to make sure their students are performing fairly. They both have good points and need to come to some form of agreement."
And many school districts are.
In Eastern Oregon, taking inappropriate pictures and cheating with the use of cell phones has not yet surfaced as an issue in schools. However, districts are taking preventative measures.
"You can't have them," said Blake Carlsen, principal of Enterprise School's grades 7-12. "They can leave them turned off in their lockers or in their backpacks. Basically, we don't want to see them."
Leaving the phones turned off in lockers or backpacks seems to be the consensus around Eastern Oregon schools.
"We don't want to keep them from having the phones, but we don't want the phones to be a distraction or a nuisance, either," said Jerry Wilson, superintendent of the Hermiston School District, who said students can bring the phones to school, but have to turn them off in class. "At this stage, we're just sticking with these guidelines because it's the most fair for everyone."
Teachers have to stick by those same rules as the students do, Wilson said.
The same holds true in the Echo School District. Superintendent Rob Waite said his schools hold a sort of "out of sight, out of mind" policy, where students need to make sure their phones are kept out of the classroom and turned off in a locker to prevent any distractions or abuse.
"Mostly, we're just trying to prevent more serious issues from occurring," Waite said. "You always have to be proactive with policies to keep things from happening in the future."
But rules on cell phones in Eastern Oregon schools are not nearly as strict as in some other areas of the country. All cell phones are banned in all six high schools in the San Mateo Union High School District along the Central California peninsula, even though issues with the new technology have not arisen.
However, in Salinas, Calif., a high school student was caught using a camera phone during a test. Now camera phones are banned at that school.
"It's already a sensitive issue for middle schoolers in locker rooms as it is, much less having the fear of someone taking their picture," Waite said.
However, technology is moving faster than school policies can keep up with, Evans said. Typically, school districts review policies once each year and make any necessary amendments. But new technology develops and is put on the market every day.
Cell phone companies say their products can be covered under general school policies regarding cameras, cheating and regular cell phones.
"Cameras have been around for a long time, and (camera phones are) just another form of it," said Dave Mellin, a spokesperson for Sprint. "There's an element of personal responsibility with using any form of technology."
U.S. Cellular said it's up to the schools to develop policies that make individual students responsible for their actions and that the speed of technology doesn't necessarily have to play a factor into those policies.
"There isn't anything a policy can't keep up with or cover in regard to the phones," said John Simley, spokesperson for U.S. Cellular.
Simley suggested schools regard camera phones used in inappropriate ways and text messaging for cheating purposes with the same penalties as using a regular camera or cheating in another form at school.
"We would obviously prefer customers regulate themselves and use appropriate behavior in regard to camera phones," Mellin said.
Students say they do regulate themselves. At Pendleton High School, there are few students who even have camera phones, said junior Mackenzie Larson.
"When I went over to Japan, everyone had them. But not around here," Larson said.
Larson noted that while she does bring her cell phone to school, she keeps it on silent during the day so as not to allow it to cause a distraction.
"I keep it on silent just in case my mom is trying to get a hold of me or something," Larson said.
Some students don't even bother bringing the phone to school and leave it in their cars or at home, like senior PHS student Tyler Stahl, who leaves his in his truck in the parking lot.
"I think having (cell phones) at school is good because you never know when you need them, like if your parents are trying to get a hold of you," Stahl said. "But you don't really need to have it in class. That can end up being distracting."