High schools, Jackson Middle test cell phone pilot policy

PARKERSBURG – The county’s three high schools and a middle school are in the process of testing a pilot cell phone policy.

The policy allows students to use cell phones during their lunch period in designated areas and in classrooms for educational purposes. The policy also allows the school principal to include additional time where devices may be permitted.

The policy is being tested at the Parkersburg, Parkersburg South, Williamstown high schools and Jackson Middle School.

“Basically, this is what used to be the original policy,” said Jeff Mennillo, assistant principal at Parkersburg High.

“We are trying to give them the privilege- that’s the key word – of using them at lunchtime to check up on texts, emails and messages,” said Parkersburg South Principal Tom Eschbacher.

John Merritt, director of federal programs for Wood County Schools, said the new pilot policy arose from a committee that reviewed the existing cell phone policy.

Eschbacher said Parkersburg South will start the program on Jan. 22. Merritt said the policy is already in effect in some schools.

The pilot was instituted at Parkersburg High earlier this week.

“It was a school decision as to when it would start,” Merritt said.

Mennillo said kids were happier with the new rules.

Eschbacher has been an advocate for easing restrictions on the school’s cell phone policy. He said the consensus reached by the committee is they would be permitted in class as approved by the principal.

“And I have already given my faculty that leeway,” Eschbacher said. “If they need to use a calculator or look up a word that’s fine.”

The other major change to the policy is students who violate the electronic device policy will no longer have their phones seized by teachers and have to be picked up by parents, Eschbacher said.

“That’s a pain in the rear to do and it adds to administrative responsibilities,” Eschbacher said.

Merritt said after the nine-week term ends the committee will reform to see how the pilot went.

He stressed no changes to the existing policy have yet to be made. The policy cannot be changed without action from the board of education.

“We are doing a pilot program to see if these changes will work out well,” he said. “We don’t want to change the policy unless you know those changes are going to be effective.”