School Board discuss banning cellphones in classrooms, student safety

YourSun | By Elaine Allen-Emrich | April 13, 2023

PORT CHARLOTTE — Charlotte County Public Schools know a statewide ban on cellphone use in the public school classrooms is likely coming.

The School Board discussed best practices and anticipated legislative requirements at its latest meeting.

If the bill, known as HB 379, becomes law July 1, students will not be allowed to use cellphones in classrooms during instructional time. The bill allows teachers to confiscate a student’s devise but allows exceptions, including for students with learning disabilities. Each school would also prohibit students from accessing social media platforms on public school networks.

Along with those rules, schools will be required to teach the “social, emotional, and physical effects of social media” to students sixth through 12th grade. Teachers will explain the dangers of “cyberbullying, human trafficking, predation, misinformation, manipulation, the permanency of materials shared online and the risk of exposing sensitive personal information.”

Districts would also have to add these changes to the code of student conduct.

School Board members acknowledged student have their phones and use them all day at school. However, they said it’s only because it’s allowed by teachers and staff. 

“They (students) want us to give them structure,” School Board Vice Chair Wendy Atkinson said, adding 10 students were questioned if cellphones are a classroom distraction and all agreed it is disruptive every day.

The board was also told parents will be notified of health care and mental health access regarding their children. A parent can also “withhold or decline” those in-school services. 

Superintendent Stephen Dionisio said next school year, as part of the new dress code, all students will have an up-to-date identification card with a recent photo. 

Dionisio said all districts must promote the use an app called FortifyFl. FortifyFL is an app to report suspicious activity. It can be used to report a tip to the school administration and law enforcement about anything like a planned fight, someone who may want to do self harm or any type of violence or damaging act. 

Dionisio said students are trained in August about the cellphone app and to use it if they see or hear something suspicious. He said FortifyFL works. 

“I have seven separate tips regarding the Charlotte High School incident last week,” Dionisio told the School Board. “People weren’t assuming others had called in to report what they heard.”

Dionisio said there are consequences for anyone who knowingly calls in a false tip. However, information can be given anonymously to appropriate public safety agencies and school officials.

Survivors of the mass killing Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School named the app and created the logo. Those Parkland students chose the name FortifyFL to strengthen and protect against attack. A total of 17 were killed that day. 

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