Policy fills room with cell phones

The crackdown on cell phones in Richmond County schools has left officials wondering what to do with thousands of phones confiscated in the past 15 years.

The evidence room of the public safety department has little room left because most of its shelves are holding boxes of confiscated phones. The boxes spill into the dispatch room, where they line the walls and outline the base of the dispatcher's desk, leaving a small path to walk through.

At last count, public safety Director Julia Porter-Stein said, there were 4,566 cell phones tucked into evidence bags, some sitting there since 1993. The sheer volume has become burdensome on the dispatcher who logs them in, and the room has no more space for evidence.

Richmond County confiscates phones for 365 days, but students often don't reclaim them.

The phones are an increasing problem. More phones were seized last school year than in the first six years of the policy. More than 2,000 phones were confiscated in the past two years.

The school board is considering changing the 365-day rule in an effort to clean out the evidence room. The proposal would ease the hard-line stance, replacing it with escalating consequences.

Under the proposal, on the first offense, a parent would have 10 days to claim the phone before it is turned in to public safety. For a second offense, public safety would take the phone for 30 days. If not picked up in the next 10 days, it would be discarded, recycled or donated to charity. On the third offense, the phones would be seized and immediately discarded, recycled or donated.

A decision could come when the board meets June 26. If the rules are changed, the board will also set a deadline for claiming currently confiscated phones.

The board's policy had been to take phones until the end of the year for a first offense. The second time around, the phones were taken permanently. In 2003-04, that was changed to 30 days on the first offense and until the end of the semester on the second offense.

In February 2005, the 365-day rule was instituted after a rash of bomb threats.

Assistant Superintendent Pat Burau surveyed 11 Georgia school systems and Aiken County's earlier this year. None confiscated phones for as long as Richmond County.

Looking at the evidence room, it's obvious the policy hasn't acted as a deterrent, Mrs. Burau said.

Superintendent Dana Bedden joked last week that the phones should be auctioned on eBay, and he later said he will be happy when the school board is out of the cell phone business.

Dr. Bedden said he has never heard of any school system with a rule like Richmond County's.

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

IN EVIDENCE

YEARCONFISCATEDRECLAIMED
1993-9992691
1999-200027856
2000-0119654
2001-0215249
2002-0312430
2003-04379215
2004-05745371
2005-06748Not available
2006-071,081257
2007-081,09636

Source: Richmond County Board of Education