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Parents in rural Colo. school district voice concerns over cellphone ban in upcoming school year

Parents in rural school district voice concerns over cellphone ban
Posted at 10:38 PM, Aug 11, 2022
and last updated 2023-01-27 14:03:57-05

Editor's note (Jan. 25, 2022): All four counts against the assistant principal of Brush High School were dismissed.

Editor's note: Phones will be allowed at Brush High School after district officials dropped the ban during a school board meeting on Aug. 15, you can find the original story below:

BRUSH, Colo. — About 90 miles northeast of Denver, parents in a rural school district are rallying against a new school policy that many fear would negatively impact communication in the upcoming school year.

Come Aug. 15, students at Brush High School are expected to head back to class with no cellphones in tow.

The new policy was announced by the Brush School District in late July, and ever since, parents have made concerted efforts to have their voices heard. During a meeting held on Thursday evening, parents had the opportunity to share their grievances directly to district leadership.

District Superintendent Bill Wilson addressed the crowd near the start of the meeting by saying the school didn't intend on "searching anybody" or "patting anybody down" when it came to enforcement of the policy. At another point during the meeting, Wilson seemingly implied the rule would be more lax than the policy as written on paper — saying if students brought their phones to school and they're "turned off" and "don't go off," the district wouldn't be worried about them. His remarks were met with allegations from the crowd. "Sounds like a 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy'" a man shouted.

The overwhelming majority of parents in attendance expressed some concern over the no phones rule. One woman suggested the district create a stricter policy surrounding cellphone use instead of banning them outright. Some shared support and understanding for the new protocol.

Nicole Stone stepped up to podium and said she wanted to provide the "teacher perspective" because "phones became a huge problem last year" for her husband, who is a teacher. She said at the start of every school day, her husband collected phones in a basket, but to no avail over disruptions.

The new policy states: "Students are not allowed to bring cellphones, smartwatches, or other devices with the ability to call, access apps, or text to school, with the exception of students that will be traveling for extracurricular, co-curricular, field trips, or athletic purposes. Students that will be traveling for the approved reasons will be allowed to bring their cell phone to the office prior to classes starting to place their phone in the coach/sponsor’s travel tub. Coaches/sponsors will distribute phones and monitor cell phones at their discretion based on the staff handbook recommendations for activity trip supervision. Cell phones will not be allowed to be used on the bus without coach/sponsor permission or in locker rooms while traveling. Students with medical conditions that require monitoring will have the ability to use these devices with restrictions. Teachers may request cell phone usage for certain class activities."

Disciplinary actions for students found in violation of the new directive can be found on page 20 of the Brush High School Handbook, which begins with confiscation of the phone and can lead to suspension with repeat offenses.

The new rules come on the heels of a sexting scandal that's shaken the Brush community. Back in June, the assistant principal of Brush High School, Bradley Bass, was charged with four counts of sexual exploitation of a child. Another administrator, Scott Hodgson, was charged with complicity to commit sexual exploitation of a child. Both men are currently on paid lead. In an extensive report by the Colorado Sun, the pair said they kept photos of the sexting exchanges between students, for record keeping.

On Thursday evening, many parents — like Kalee Konecne, who's child currently attends Brush High School — said they felt the new cellphone policy was a direct result of the ongoing issue.

Amid the ongoing circumstances of the sexting scandal, district leadership announced they'd be seeking other options in their safety plans as opposed to utilizing a school resource officer provided by the Brush Police Department.

"Brush School District remains as committed as ever to the safety of our students and staff. Current circumstances, the ineffectiveness of our current SRO and SRO Program, and a lack of trust and relationship prompted us to make a change and seek alternative options to more effectively achieve our safety goals. We continue to attend safety trainings, update our Emergency Operations Plan and procedures, conduct our lock-out, lock-down, fire, and other drills. We are simply changing the experts with whom we partner to provide specific trainings and services," Wilson wrote in an email sent to parents on Aug. 10.

"There's mass shootings, if my daughter doesn't have her phone... how do I know I'm going to be able to tell her I love her if there is a mass shooting?" Konecne said. "There's no explanation behind it. So if there wasn't a phone issue last year, because we never got notified of a phone issue last year, then why all of a sudden this change?"

"I understand that there's got to be some rules in place for a cell phone, but to ban them completely from the school? I don't agree with that," she added.

Meanwhile, Jennifer "Jenny" Herrera started a petition to express his disdain for the district's decision making. The petition has a little more than 750 signatures — many of them coming from parents.

"I'm enraged to be honest with you," Herrera said. "I feel like phones are our way of communicating as parents with our kids. I track my kids to make sure they are where they're supposed to be."

In a statement to Denver7, the Brush School District said cellphones in schools had been a years-long problem. Additionally, the district negated that the new policy was tied to the sexting investigation.

Our conversations and concerns regarding the negative impacts of student cell phone use at school began several years ago. Our discipline data - particularly at the High School level - indicated that the vast majority of our discipline issues were either caused by, or exacerbated by inappropriate use of their cell phones. This, along with teacher concerns (92% of our HS teaching staff favor the changes to policy) regarding the distractions to our classrooms and learning environment was the genesis for our recent changes.

Brush School District

Thursday's meeting lasted for over two hours, and Wilson said district leadership wouldn't make any immediate, new decisions.

Derek Bos, chief of the Brush Police Department, issued the following a statement to Denver7 in regards to the investigation of Bass and Hodgson.

"When we first learned about the case we didn’t know what their [the administrators] intentions were. It was reported to us that they had retained images of nude, seminude and scantily clad students so obviously we have an obligation to look into that and investigate. the law on sexual exploitation of a child does not require that the person who obtained images is doing it for sexual gratification -- just mere possession of those images constitutes the crime of sexual exploitation of a child. As we looked at this case, it's not really a matter of whether or not they did this for personal gratification it's more of a matter of why the school would want these images ... why would they keep these images. We have the ethical obligation of determining first, were these images collected and then we have to verify the truth of that and determine if there a crime and should they be charged. That was conversation we had at length with the DA. We were lockstep with them from the start. It's also about who else will have access to these images -- just because one or two people have collected them and they may or may not have had nefarious intentions, it doesn’t mean other people who had access to them at the school wouldn’t have nefarious intentions. Every time these images come in contact with the internet, there's the possibility that somebody outside the school could get them. Whether it through hacking or by accident. Our focus is containment and making sure that doesn’t happen to protect the victims"

Derek Bos, chief of Brush PD