News Column

Cell phone proposal relaxed for Broward schools

May 28, 2014

By Scott Travis, Sun Sentinel



May 28--You might call it a hands-off approach to limiting cell phone use by parents dropping off and picking up their kids at schools.

The Broward County School Board has wanted to draft a policy that would ban cell phone use by people driving on a school property, but they had one major hang-up: hands-free devices. They agreed in a workshop Tuesday that hands-free devices should be allowed.

An earlier draft of the proposal would have banned all use of cell phones and personal electronic devices by drivers, regardless of whether they used hands-free features.

Some board members said hands-free devices are safer than dialing and holding a phone. And they argued that many new cars are equipped with Bluetooth hands-free technology, making it nearly impossible to tell if drivers are using the phone or talking to a passenger.

"I don't want to put school staff in a position where they're' getting into fights with people, asking if them if they are on a Bluetooth," Board member Robin Bartleman said. "I can see how this can open up a whole can of worms."

But even if a parent insists on driving with their phone stuck to the ear, school officials say there may be little they can do, making the policy little more than a recommendation. They would have a tough time collecting any fines they tried to impose on parents or visitors, and they have no plans to ban violators from picking up their children.

"This is more of a culture-driven policy so that school administrators have something to help prevent behavior," said Jeff Moquin, chief of staff for Superintendent Robert Runcie. "If the parent tells them no, I don't know what the repercussions are."

Many schools already have signs saying cell phone use is banned during drop-off and pickup. School administrators say they have tried to tell parents to put their phones down, but have often met resistance when they can't point to a specific law or district policy banning the practice.

The state outlawed texting while driving a year ago, but talking on the phone is legal, regardless of whether hands-free devices are used.

"This is about safety. People are distracted. They're going to hit a child," Board member Laurie Rich Levinson. "You can't have 100 percent enforcement, but it's a deterrent if we have a policy saying no texting or holding a phone while in the parking lot."

The policy, which board members hope to complete in time for the new school year, would apply to any parents, students, employees or visitors using any vehicles on schools on any school district property. While the focus is on parent pickup and drop-off, school officials say they've seen other troubling cell phone usage from employees.

"We've had mechanics working on brakes underneath the bus talking on cell phones," said Jerry Graziose, director of safety for Broward schools. "We've had people cutting grass with tractors on cell phones when they need to be paying attention to work. It's gotten out of control."

The district hasn't been able to discipline employees in these situations because there hasn't been a policy prohibiting cell phone use. There are policies designed to limit student cell phone use, and prevent bus drivers from talking on the phone.

stravis@tribune.com or 561-243-6637 or 954-425-1421

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(c)2014 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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Source: South Florida Sun Sentinel (FL)


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