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Cell Phone Crackdown at APS?

By Hailey Heinz
Journal Staff Writer
       Grace Fierro's phone was confiscated Wednesday after she was caught sending text messages in class at Del Norte High School.
    The recipient? Fierro's mother, who was communicating with her daughter about some after-school logistics.
    "I'm a fan of being in touch with my child during the day," Dorothy Fierro said sheepishly on Wednesday afternoon. She was walking into the building, Grace in tow, to retrieve the cell phone from the office. "I honestly thought it was passing period when she texted me."
    Contact between parents and students is one of several delicate issues Albuquerque Public Schools officials hope to address with a proposed district-wide cell phone policy.
    The policy also addresses "sexting," cheating and social networking sites, all of which are currently left to each school to sort out. The new rules would allow cell phone use before and after school, with lunchtime use allowed for high school students.
    The policy is an early draft. APS wants to circulate it and get comment from parents, students and teachers.
    Some school board members have already raised concerns. The current draft does not make specific mention of cyberbullying, which board president Martin Esquivel said should be included.
    Several board members also raised concerns because the current draft says APS staff must notify APS police if sexually explicit material is found on a phone.
    Board member Lorenzo Garcia said he is leery of channeling students into the legal system over a youthful mistake.
    "I have a 14-year-old grandson, and sometimes he has goofy logic," Garcia said. "My concern is that we automatically go into the legal system with this, and there could be serious consequences."
    In some states, teens have been charged with producing child pornography for taking and distributing sexual pictures of themselves by text message.
    But Del Norte students discussing the policy Wednesday were more concerned about when they are (and aren't) allowed to flex their texting thumbs. "We should be able to use it between classes," senior Caila Mesa said. She acknowledged, though, that she is sometimes tempted to use it during class instead of paying attention.
    "It's kind of hard not to. People text you while you're bored in class, and you want to text back," she said. "Some teachers make a bigger deal of it than others."
    Joel Fouser, who teaches social studies at Del Norte, is one teacher who is not shy about taking phones away when they are distracting. He Wsaid teachers have to consider a whole range of concerns that did not exist five years ago, like using phones to cheat.
    "I am especially vigilant during quizzes and tests," Fouser said.
    He said he has learned to look for signs of inappropriate cell phone use. He said he saw a group of students huddled around a phone and worried they were looking at a video of a fight or something sexually explicit.
    Much to his relief, they were looking at a video recording of a school assembly where students had performed dances and skits.
    "It's part of their culture, now, to try to capture that moment," he said.
    Del Norte principal Jo Sloan said the draft policy does a good job of acknowledging that cell phones are part of the culture and are not going away.
    "I understand that, and I'm using my phone more and more," she said. "I think everyone has gotten used to that instant messaging, and it's just a matter of learning to use it appropriately."
    She rattled off a list of appropriate uses for cell phones, saying that some sports coaches use text messages to remind the team about practices or other events.
    Activities director Scott Goff said he texts back and forth with student leaders, and the leader of the student Senate recently used cell phones to gather the Senate for a lunch meeting.
    "It's just more efficient," Goff said. "We use them in lieu of walkie-talkies."
    Sloan said she often gets resistance from parents who come to pick up their children's confiscated cell phones.
    "They can't do without the kid having a phone for 24 hours," Sloan said.
    As for Dorothy Fierro, she likes keeping in touch with Grace.
    "Especially for working parents, it's important to get in touch with kids during the day," she said. But that's not a free pass for Grace, she added. "I really want her paying attention during class."

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