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Managing Cell Phones in the Classroom

Male student on his cell phone in class

Cell phones in school is an issue that teachers didn’t have to deal with in the past. But with nearly 80 percent of teens using cell phones on a regular basis, educators must now focus on ways to turn their students’ attention to learning. They may resort to confiscating students’ phones and looking through them. But can they legally do so? What are teachers’ rights in this regard?

Managing cell phones in the classroom is new for most teachers. Many schools are just starting to implement policies regarding cell phone use at school, and teachers may not fully understand what they cannot do in this regard.

New York Law

Cell phones were banned from New York schools several years ago, but that ban was lifted in 2015. Now, each school principal has leeway to create policies that instruct students as to what they can and cannot do with their phones during instruction time and breaks. For the most part, students are instructed to keep their phones in their backpacks during class but can use them during lunch break as well as before and after school.

Many teachers, however, are finding ways to incorporate phones in the classroom. For example, students may be allowed to use the calculator function on their phones for a math test, or use the internet to complete an in-class assignment. In these cases, students may use their phones in class based on their teachers’ discretion.

Students’ Rights

While there are cell phone policies in place that students must abide by, students have rights as well. These rights help protect the privacy of students. As such, school administrators and staff are not allowed to search a student’s phone without the consent of the student and his or her parent or guardian. If a search is allowed, it must be related to the offense. For example, if a student is caught texting during class, a teacher does not have the liberty to search a student’s internet history or browse through saved photos.

Students are to keep their phones turned off and out of sight during class time. However, they do have to right to use their phone during class in an emergency situation.

If a student uses a phone during class in a non-emergency situation, the teacher has the right to discipline the student with a verbal warning. If the student continues the inappropriate behavior, the teacher then reserves the right to confiscate the phone. The phone then must be returned to the student by the end of the day. If the student uses a phone to engage in cheating or other illegal or immoral activities, the school can enforce other forms of discipline.

Contact New York Education Law Attorneys

Teachers have the right to educate students in a distraction-free workplace. When students spend class time on their phone and other devices, they are not actively learning. At the same time, though, teachers need to understand what they are and are not allowed to do

If you are facing disciplinary action by exercising your rights as a teacher, seek help from the experienced New York education law attorneys at Ricotta & Marks, P.C. Contact us at (347)-464-8694 to schedule a consultation.

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