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District’s policy on searching students’ cell phones sparks concern

PORT ANGELES — The question is whether teachers ever have the right to look through a student’s cell phone? It’s a debate going on in the Port Angeles School District.

Parent Jeremy Johnson started the debate. He says that school administrators who have the power to look through a student’s cell is a violation of privacy and he wants the policy gone.

“The policy grants them the ability to search through a telecom device such as an Iphone or Ipad or Ipod Touch if they broke a school rule,” said Johnson.

Johnson read that policy in a school manual, and, with his daughter attending the district this year, he became concerned.

“I understand teachers are in a difficult situation of trying to make a good learning environment and trying to get everything they can out of the school system, but I don’t feel that they are the right or appropriate people to look through students device,” he said.

Johnson is an IT specialist and says in this modern world, technology like a cell phone is a gateway to plenty of sensitive information.

“It’s a device that potentially contains all their personal details, whether it is medical records, family history, sexual identification or gender identity,” said Johnson.

The father says the Constitution doesn’t stop at the school house doors and he believes the rule opens up the school district to lawsuits.

Superintendent Jane Pryne says teachers would have to have a very good reason to look through a student’s cell.

Johnson has since brought up his concerns to Pryne, hoping to lobby the system to scratch its policy.

“We are doing our due diligence; we are appreciative of Jeremy bringing it forward,” said Pryne.

The superintendent says she’s asked  the school’s attorney to come up with revisions, which the board will vote on.

“We are looking at what’s in the best interest of the students and the school district,” said Pryne.

Johnson says the issue is black and white — only parents or police should have the right to look through a  private device.

“If there is some kind of legal issues … a  bomb threat or harassment, police need to be involved,” said Johnson.

The school does involve police in those situations. Pryne says the law is not ambiguous but flexible, giving school districts the discretion to make its own rules when it comes to the issue.

The school system is considering scrapping the policy or implementing other revisions. Pryne says they are only brainstorming at this point.

No word yet on when the debate will be back on the school board’s agenda.

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