Lewiston schools to start new cellphone, recording restrictions Wednesday

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Aug. 30—LEWISTON — School Committee members voted unanimously to adopt a revised cellphone and recording policy that would significantly restrict the use of devices in school.

"I think this policy is something we have to do," said Chairman and Ward 1 representative Bruce Damon, adding that parent buy-in was critical.

Damon and other representatives spoke to the need for broad, equal enforcement across the district: "There can be no nice guys," he said.

School Committee representatives suggested several mostly minor edits to the policy in response to community feedback. A form sent to the school community received more than 600 responses, the majority of which were generally in support of the policy.

Students will be able to retrieve confiscated phones at the end of the day with parent permission; a previous version of the policy stated that parents or guardians would need to pick up the phone from the school. Other clarifications were made to the enforcement section of the policy.

The recording section was edited to state that staff and administrators were the only ones who could give permission for photographs, videos and audio recordings on school property, not students themselves.

The policy was expanded to include prekindergarten students.

Several School Committee members expressed a desire to receive an update on the policy later this year in order to consider further changes.

Under the policy, students in prekindergarten to grade eight would be required to keep cellphones in their bag during the day. High school students would also be barred from using their cellphones, except during breaks between classes and lunch.

An exception could be made for devices that are deemed to be "essential for the student's health, safety or for educational purposes as determined by the administration."

Students would additionally be prohibited from taking photos, videos or audio recordings in locker rooms and bathrooms. At any other school location, permission must be obtained from school staff or administrators before recording another person on school property.

Other devices restricted during the school day include, but are not limited to, iPods, MP3 players, hand-held computers, electronic games, laser pointers, headphones and similar devices.

Students' phones could be subjected to search if there is reasonable suspicion of a violation of committee or other school rules in accordance with the law, which include, but are not limited to harassment, cheating and violations of the student code of conduct, according to the policy.

Policy violations could lead to confiscation of the device, up to suspension, expulsion or referral to law enforcement for serious offenses.

The new cellphone policy will be in effect for the first day of school Wednesday.

The School Committee approved a plan to reallocate unspent funds from open positions to create a pilot reentry program for students who were previously barred from school property due to expulsion, long-term suspension or other situations.

The district will spend a projected $115,000 to pay for a teacher and educational technician for the program. Rather than open new positions, the district would hire staff from Tree Street Youth, according to Langlais. The nonprofit on Birch Street would also likely host the program.

The school pays tutors an hourly rate to work with students reentering the school system.

The committee additionally voted to reallocate funds to create four more staff positions at the Store Next Door, a nonprofit based at Longley School which helps homeless and housing-insecure youth.

These new staff may be a mix of teachers, educational technicians or other supervisory staff. Their purpose is to expand the program to offer evening services to students and families, including laundry, meal distribution, tutoring and other supports.

The estimated $180,000 for these positions would also be from unspent funds due to open staff positions.

Superintendent Jake Langlais said the district is ready for the first day of school Wednesday. However, the district is still trying to fill education technician and teaching positions.

Some educational technicians moved into teaching roles to help fill vacancies and administrators shifted some teachers around to help make up for the staffing shortage, Langlais said.

In regard to transportation, Langlais said the district is in a far better position with drivers than it was earlier this year. Still, there may be some disruptions, he said.

School officials additionally asked that the community keep an eye out for students walking to and from bus stops.

Cristina Lavigne was hired as an assistant principal at Montello Elementary School following 17 years with the Brunswick school district.

Chris Hoskins will take on Montello's multitiered systems of support supervisor role. This role helps provide targeted support to struggling students. Hoskins, a Lewiston resident, was most recently the multitiered systems of support coordinator for Maine Connections Academy.

Assistant Director of English Language Learning Lysa McLemore was named interim director of English Language Learning.