Panel OKs cell phone changes

Cell phones could be allowed next school year in four Richmond County schools under a pilot program being considered, giving relief to a policy that Superintendent Dana Bedden calls archaic.

A school board committee on Tuesday night gave the OK for students at Butler, Hephzibah, Westside and A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet high schools to bring cell phones to school as long as they are not seen or heard.

In addition, the committee endorsed easing the board's current policy, which confiscates all cell phones found for 365 days, and the punishment for possessing a cell phone at all schools. The full board will consider the changes Thursday, and the details of how long the phone would be taken and the corresponding punishment would be approved at a later time. That would also go into effect next school year.

"The 365-day rule is archaic to me, and it's driving public safety up the wall," Dr. Bedden said.

Students are going to bring phones regardless, and policies should focus on ensuring the phones don't interrupt instruction, he said.

field trips

Field trips not already scheduled for this school year will remain that way.

Dr. Bedden made the announcement at Tuesday's committee meeting, calling for a moratorium on unnecessary travel. Field trips that are already planned or that are in the works won't be affected.

School officials are asking that $200,000 be added to the system's diesel account to avoid going over budget because of high fuel costs.

The superintendent is also limiting travel of board employees that isn't required.

TECHNOLOGY UPGRADES

All Richmond County school buses will be outfitted with global positioning satellite equipment by Saturday.

The technology upgrade will enable the transportation department to know where all buses are at all times, allowing for increased efficiency and safety.

The six schools most in need of technology could also be getting an upgrade. School board committee members approved allocating $500,000 in sales tax revenue to the schools so they can address their technology needs as they see fit.

The allotments are as follows: $90,000 for the Academy of Richmond County; $90,000 for Langford Middle; $70,000 for Deer Chase Elementary; $70,000 for Freedom Park Elementary; $70,000 for Lake Forest Hills Elementary; and $70,000 for Sue Reynolds Elementary. The committee also approved $40,000 for any wiring the schools might need.

On Thursday, the full board will consider giving final approval to the committee's decision.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.