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Phones called tools for cheating

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Cheating on a test by using a cell phone — or even being suspected of that — may end with the electronic device being seized and searched.

Faculty and staff at campuses within the South San Francisco Unified District would be allowed to confiscate cell phones and search through phone and text messages of students suspected of cheating under a policy change that will go before the school board.

The change is prompted by stories of students who take pictures of tests and assignments and send them to friends, district Superintendent Howard Cohen said.

Although there have not been any students caught doing this within South San Francisco schools, he said, it has occurred in other districts. The changes would amend a ban on cell phones on campus that has been in place since 2005, he said.

“We won’t just grab a student’s cell phone,” Cohen said. “In order to search, certain conditions have to be met. It’s a way of letting parents and students know the new procedures.”

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The right to search a cell phone will be given if there is evidence that a particular student “was violating the law or a school rule,” according to the proposed policy change’s wording.

Such a search, the district says, is “not excessively intrusive in light of the nature of alleged infraction.”

Jackie Lagomarsino, parent and member of the El Camino High School Parent Teacher Association, said she was unsure of how she felt about the new rules.

“When you don’t have a child who uses cell phones to cheat it’s hard to respond,” she said. “If you’ve got nothing to hide, but also there should be some respect for privacy.”

Electronic media, Cohen said, is a “whole new world” for teachers and other school officials.

Students at South San Francisco High School who were told about the proposed rule change expressed concerns about possible violations of their privacy.

“That’s crazy,” 17-year-old Stephanie Sandoval said. “Cheating has nothing to do with being able to look at my cell phone.”

Sandoval said she has not used her phone to cheat, but has sent text messages to friends during school hours — a violation of the district’s overall ban.

The practice of enforcing the current ban varies at each campus, Cohen said.


Following the rules

South San Francisco Unified School District conduct code is intended to ensure a positive learning environment for all students. A proposed rule change would allow the confiscation and inspection of phones suspected of being used to cheat.


Grades 9-12

  • Students may not use phones, pagers or beepers on school grounds during regular school hours
  • Students may only possess such devices as long as they don’t disrupt classes or other school activities
  • Phones and other such devices must be turned off at the request of school district staff

Grades K-8

  • Possession of phones, pagers and beepers is prohibited on school grounds
  • Exceptions are allowed only on preapproved health grounds

Source: South San Francisco Unified School District

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