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Halifax County trustees ease rules on student cell phone use

SoVaNow.com / August 17, 2017

The Halifax County School Board agreed Monday night to revise the cell phone policy at Halifax County High School to make the rules more consistent and hopefully easier to enforce.

Supervisor of Secondary Education Frosty Owens, who presented the proposed revisions to trustees, said parents want their children to have cell phones in their possession, one reason for loosening the rules for their use.

Another reason to change the policy, said Owens, is that “the current regulation is not enforceable.”

The new regulations state that all cellular phones are to be turned off prior to entering the classroom and remain off during instructional time. Students are permitted to use cell phones before the instructional day begins at 8:29 a.m., during class changes, during lunch and after the instructional day ends at 3:15 p.m.

However, students will not be permitted to use a cell phone for personal conversations at any location on campus between 8:21 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.

Any student who has an emergency where a cell phone call is necessary must request permission from their grade level administrator.

At Halifax County Middle School, students must turn their phones off prior to entering the building and leave them off during the school day. Their phones may be kept in a vehicle, locker, backpack or purse or on their person.

For students at the high school or middle school who violate the regulations — having their phones out or using them without permission — the phone must handed off to the teacher or administrator. The phone will then be turned into the principal’s office where it may be picked up by a parent or guardian from 3:30-4:30 p.m.

Any student who violates the regulations and refuses to turn his phone over to an administrator is subject to suspension from school. Trustees Freddie Edmunds (ED-5) and Walter Potts (ED-8) both stressed that it is imperative that the regulations be enforced.

In other business at Monday’s School Board meeting, trustees approved the appointment of an internal committee to study the local teacher salary scale with the stipulation that an earlier study of the same issue be revived and reconsidered.

ED-3 trustee Kim Farson pointed out that the School Board paid VASS (Virginia Association of School Superintendents) to complete a study of teacher salaries back in October 2013. “We paid them $5,500 to carry out this study, but we were never able to fund the proposed changes,” she said.

Farson encouraged her fellow board members to include the earlier study in their discussions.

Edmunds suggested that the committee should take the earlier study and combine it with new findings that apply to all school employees, not just teachers.

The committee will include representatives of the school board and school employees: Monty Lowery, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Valdivia Hall, Finance Director Jay Camp, Catherine Glass, elementary school principal, Ben Woosley, HEA principal, Ken Vaiden and Mamie McCargo, HEA.

Superintendent Mark Lineburg asked the trustees to approve a set of goals they discussed in a July 11 retreat in Lynchburg. The first emphasizes student learning and achievement of full accreditation for all nine county schools.

Second, they will conduct a comprehensive facilities study, including a history of county school buildings, and identify specific facility needs. The process will include community forums to discuss the county division’s long term facility needs.

The next goal calls for improving compensation for employees, with a competitive wage benefit package to attract and retain highly qualified personnel.

The fourth goal calls for an analysis of disproportionate data and develop intervention plans for special education and student behavior.

Their final goal encourages school specific student and staff attendance initiatives.

The goals will be the subject of five Community Forums to discuss the future of the schools and other topics of interest. The first of those forums is set for Tuesday, Sept. 12 at Scottsburg Elementary, followed by one at Cluster Springs Elementary on Monday, Sept. 18, then at Sinai Elementary on Monday, September 25.

Additional meetings are set at Sydnor Jennings Elementary on Tuesday, Oct. 10 and the last at the high school on Monday, Oct. 16. All will start at 6 p.m.

Lineburg told trustees that he had visited each of the county’s school on the first day and described the opening as “fabulous.”

Two local residents spoke to school board members during the public comment period. Halifax businessman Detra Carr thanked Lineburg for coming to the recent monthly meeting of the local chapter of the NCAAP.

“I felt like we were truly looking at ‘one community,’” said Carr, referring to a newly-formed group to build ties among diverse groups in Halifax County.

Cheryl Watts also encouraged trustees to heed a suggestion that her brother, Mark Gosney, presented to county supervisors last week. Gosney has volunteered the help of business people who have been successful in various fields to be involved in helping the schools in planning for future facilities and plans.

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