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As cellphones proliferate classrooms, so do distractions

June 22, 2012|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
(Martin Hajek, via…)

The photograph depicting two naked women kissing emanated from the student’s cellphone screen, visible to everyone in the classroom. Glendale High School math teacher Taline Arsenian confiscated the device, placing it in a locked drawer.

The student subsequently became uncooperative, Arsenian said, and she informed him he could retrieve his phone at the end of the school day.

“Apparently, he went to an administrator and told on me,” Arsenian said. “The administrator came back to my room at lunch time and ordered me to give it back to him.”

The incident underscores inconsistencies in disciplinary practices within Glendale Unified — from school to school, if not from employee to employee — in addressing the omnipresence of electronic devices in the classroom.

At their most innocuous, cellphones are a distraction, teachers said. At worst, they facilitate cheating.

District officials announced earlier this month that they were looking to rewrite existing school board policy, providing direction on how to handle illicit cellphone use, but ultimately leaving the details up to school site administrators. The conversation is unfolding even as Glendale Unified — armed with a $270-million school bond — works to brand itself as a pacesetter in education technology.

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Currently, electronic devices that disrupt school activities can be “confiscated by school officials,” including teachers. District administrators have proposed restricting such discretion to “a school administrator or designee,” meaning that principals could bar their teachers from confiscating cellphones.

The new language was born out of incidents in which cellphones confiscated by teachers subsequently went missing, said Deputy Supt. John Garcia. He declined to quantify the number of disappearances, but noted that the proposed policy would protect teachers from liability issues.

“It doesn’t lessen their authority to manage their classroom and work within their classroom,” Garcia said at a recent school board meeting. “What this is aimed at addressing is the complications related to confiscating something that technically belongs to a student and their parents.”

Some see it differently.

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