A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Cell phone follies redux: How to get out of finals?

So maybe this cell phone thing is a bigger problem than any of us realized. From the backwoods of Arkansas::
AUGUSTA, AR — Police arrived at Augusta High School just as the rumors of violence after a student’s suicide became shrill, leading parents to rush the campus to take their children home.

But police and school officials say the text-message-fueled panic over others committing suicide and weapons at the small town’s high school turned out to be only a way for students to avoid taking semester-ending exams.

“Somebody took advantage of a tragedy that happened in Augusta, a tragedy of a young man taking his life,” Superintendent Richard Blevins said. “Somebody exploited that and I guess that made me madder than anything else. Somebody was so insensitive to use that for their own gain.”

Bomb threats and disruptions have happened before at the 200-student high school in Augusta, a city in northeastern Arkansas on the banks of the White River. But police say the proliferation of cell phones among students allowed some to take advantage of the 16-year-old student’s death through small-town gossip in the electronic age.

“There’s rumor mills in this town like you just cannot believe, because everyone knows everybody. Ninety percent of people is kinfolks with somebody else,” Augusta police Capt. Jim Moore said. “You get a ripple that spreads like a wave.”

Moore retired as police chief in Augusta in 1996 after 20 years patrolling its two square miles, returning only after the current chief got called up to serve in Iraq. He remembered some threats in the past, and how the phone company once tracked down a boy calling in a bomb threat so quickly that responding officers still found him with the receiver in his hand.

Crime is slow in Augusta, though, as the department on average responds to one reportable call a day.

Then on Dec. 17, officers responding to a call found a 16-year-old student dead after he had hanged himself. Moore said counselors came down to talk to students at the high school — and that’s when the rumors started.

“They just said there was going to be a shoot ’em up,” Moore said. “They was supposed to have been a pact and all this kind of stuff — that there were going to be eight or 10 hang themselves over the holidays.”

The next day, the Woodruff County sheriff’s office got a call saying students were talking about bringing guns to school. Parents called the school district worried about the supposed plot.

Augusta police and a sheriff’s deputy were at the school Dec. 18 as students entered. Blevins said school district officials used a handheld metal detector to scan everyone entering the building and looked through bags for weapons as well.

“The only thing we found were cell phones,” Blevins said, an item banned at the school, but grudgingly accepted by teachers and staffers. But after the wand searches, the superintendent said students began text messaging each other, spreading the rumor to family members.

By 10 a.m., only 25 students remained at the 335-pupil elementary school after panicked parents descended on the campus. The Searcy Police Department called, asking if police at Augusta needed help after a report of a shooting at the school reached the larger town nearby. Ambulances were even diverted to the area.

Blevins said the school probably lost two days from the panic, initially spread by students who said they got threatening text messages.

“Of course, this never happened. It’s just more damn rumors,” Moore said. “Every kid down there has a cell phone and they just jibber-jabber, jibber-jabber.”

Augusta High School is now closed for winter break, the only noise coming from whistles and pounding of basketball practices. But on Jan. 7, the school’s first day of the new year, Blevins said staff will institute a zero-tolerance policy on cellular phones. He also plans a full investigation into who caused the panic, promising to push for expulsions.

“It’s like hollering fire in a crowded theater,” Blevins said. “We can’t have people doing that.”

But Moore believes there likely won’t be any criminal charges filled in the case.

“It’s all just a rumor,” he said.

I've seen cell phones used to attract masses of students to trouble. I've seen kids spend 300 bucks on a cell phone who tell me they can't afford to buy school supplies. It's amazing what some people will do without to be in on the latest fashion-- and technology is definitely a fashion accessory first besides being a tool. I've also been fighting the battle against the cell phone with PTD, since I believe she has no need for one and I'm pretty sure she would tempted to text-message her friends at school. My suspicion is she wants one to show off and to waste hundreds of minutes yacking instead of pursuing more worthy activities. No matter what, it would be a distraction.

So, sure, I'm just an old fossil who has turned off her text-messaging feature, but is there any way to find the originator of the text messages in the story? Think of the panic that was created by this insensitive behavior. Who was the kid who thought: "Hey, someone's kid just killed himself. How can I turn this to my advantage?"


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At 1/2/08, 4:17 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

I wish I had something worthwhile to add, but I can't top your "unconscionable."

At what point did parents decide to stop teaching values?

At 1/2/08, 9:16 PM, Anonymous kontan said...

In this day with family members going in all directions I have no problem with a child having a cell phone. It comes in handy. However, I have a serious problem with misuse. There is no place for a cell phone at school. After school, yes, maybe. During, not at all. What aggravates me most is when a parent texts their child during the school day...as if it's OK since it was coming from a parent.

At 1/2/08, 10:58 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

You know, when PTD really needs a cell phone, she can borrow mine. She doesn't drive yet. It's just too prone to misuse. I am suspicious because she doesn't want just any phone but model "X."

Like Kontan's example about texting. Sometimes kids need to be able to do what they should be doing without the sound of helicopter blades whirring overhead.

But these kids in Arkansas had no need to have their phones on, whether they were placing the text messages-- or receiving them.

At 1/3/08, 12:21 AM, Blogger Dr Pezz said...

Seems as though cell phones and cell phone use aren't the problems but responsible cell phone use. Too often the new gadget or gizmo is given without any parameters or expectations of responsibility.

I'm sure the schools will be asked to teach cell phone responsibility soon, just like our new call from parents for internet responsibility in my district.

At 1/3/08, 1:55 PM, Blogger 40 said...

In our school we have a strict policy against cell phone useage during the school day. It is amazing how few students actually abide by the rule. I saw an unreal number of kids with cells at the end of the semester, I am sure because they were more relaxed as we readied for break.

Cell phones are not just a tool to spread panic in schools, but (as you have shown in other posts) they are a serious threat to the privacy rights of a teacher. I break all of that down (incuding the ways cells can be used to cheat) at the beginning of the semester. I want the students to know that the no cell phone policy is not something to bust their chops about, but rather is an important safety rule.

At 1/4/08, 6:05 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

Our district implemented a strict no cell phone policy this year with mandatory discipline actions. Basically it's "off and in your locker"...first offense equals 10 discipline points and two days in ISS - no questions asked, regardless of how good the kid is. I've seen two of my top students get the first referral of their lives due to cell phones. The School Board did a lot of newspaper stories about the policy and you should have seen the uproar, but once it was enacted, and enforced (that is the key), everything calmed down. I think, out of 1300 kids, we may have two who are multiple offenders. Most of them get the message pretty quick.

At 1/6/08, 4:48 PM, Anonymous kontan said...

I like to see what other teachers have to say. That's why I check in here from time to time. There's a new group on ning for blogging teachers, if you're interested check it out...


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