Electronics policy short-circuits


The Mirror

After a late night of passionate discussion among Federal Way School Board members and folks in the community, it is unlikely the board will enforce a policy on electronic devices and cell phones.

The general consensus at a meeting May 8 called for principals to create and enforce their own policy, without school board intervention.

“I’m open to hear from principals back to us, ‘bug out,’” said school board member Dave Larson. “I don’t think our board needs to micromanage that issue.”

The discussion about banning or regulating the use of electronics began about a year ago with a report to the board from community member and education activist Bill Pirkle.

The report suggested, among other recommendations, that the school district ban cell phones and other electronic devices.

School board member Charlie Hoff supported the ban, as well as other recommendations that included requiring desks in all classrooms to be lined up in rows, facing the chalkboard.

The items in Pirkle’s report were discussed at a board work study meeting last fall, but no action was taken.

Some of Pirkle’s suggestions were deemed unreasonable by the majority of board members and Superintendent Tom Murphy. One board member has said the recommendations were “silly.”

Hoff persistently brought the recommendations before the board on several occasions throughout the year. No one on the board would second his motion for further discussion.

The proposal to ban or regulate electronic devices was finally discussed at a public meeting last week.

On one end of the spectrum, Hoff advocated banning all electronic devices from schools.

“When I was a child, I was told not to bring my toys to school,” he said.

On the other end, board member Evelyn Castellar has advocated for the use of electronic devices such as iPods as learning tools.

The policy about electronic devices and cell phones varies at each school. The board asked the principals to work together to create a uniform policy.

The policy they came up with varied for elementary, middle and high schools.

In all cases, the devices were banned from classrooms without explicit teacher permission. Cell phones were banned from use during the school day with an exception only for emergencies.

Larson said the policy was more strict than he envisioned. He worried that the principals were creating an overly strict policy to appease the board, which was never the intention, he said.

Murphy noted that the principals never came forward asking for a new policy, indicating they weren’t having trouble enforcing their own policies at the school level.

Pirkle, one of the original supporters of the ban, said that teachers would not enforce their own policy because they are more concerned with being friends with the students than creating an atmosphere of discipline.

School board president Ed Barney disagreed.

“I don’t know of a single teacher who would not ask for help if they needed it,” he said.

A handful of concerned parents and students spoke out against a ban on cell phones and electronic devices.

Vicki Ennesser, a parent of six Federal Way students, said her children use cell phones to take pictures of notes in class and record lectures. They also use the phones if there is a danger on campus, to communicate with parents or to arrange a ride home.

As the discussion wound down about 11 p.m., well after the normal conclusion of most school board meetings, Len Englund summed up the sentiment of much of the remaining crowd.

“We’re kind of just wasting time and wasting the principals’ time,” he said.

Larson agreed:

“In my opinion, we don’t ever have to hear this again.”

Contact Margo Horner: or (253) 925-5565.

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