Local News

Johnston County Schools Clarify Cell Phone Policy

Posted August 19, 2004 11:21 a.m. EDT

— Cell phones in schools are a growing debate in Johnston County: Are they a nuisance or a necessary evil?

The debate is heating up in Johnston County after a truck crash forced a school to close early, creating confusion because students and parents could not connect.

The county school system re-defined its policy about cell phones the day after the crash in an effort to clear up any confusion.

School officials tried to make it clear Wednesday: The noise is banned, but not the noisemaker.

"Johnston County has not banned cell phones completely," said Crystal Roberts, school spokesperson. "What we've banned is the noise or the disturbance."

Said North Johnston High School Principal Ross Renfrow: "It's all right for it to be in your possession as long as we don't see it or hear it."

The confusion was prompted by a new policy in the student code of conduct. It says devices causing noise or disturbance cannot be brought into school or used during school hours.

Cell phones are on the list, so most people assumed they were banned all together.

The policy raised the attention of parents who want their children to have a phone in case of emergency, like the tanker accident that closed North Johnston High School on Tuesday.

The policy also angered many students who have cell phones. Student Danny Williams told WRAL that "about 98 percent" of students have them.

Student Amanda Pope said "it's just a security thing.

"We feel safer with a cell phone," she said.

Johnston County schools have a "phone tree" system for getting in touch with parents if schools close early. Students are allowed to use phones in the office or classrooms in an emergency.

The school district hopes its "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" approach not only will eliminate the noise, but also the confusion.

Students in Wake and Cumberland counties, meanwhile, can have cell phones. But they have to be off.

In Orange county, students can bring cell phones to school but must keep them in their locker or car.

Durham and Chapel Hill school systems still are considering rules concerning cell phones.

In June, a lack of cell phones caused problems in Chapel Hill, which has the school system there leaning toward a policy like Wake County's. Three schools were put on lockdown because of a police man hunt. Calls from panicked parents overloaded school switch boards because they could not reach their children.