Confiscated devices can be searched in new cell phone policy at Sumter Co. High School

Sumter County Schools implement new controversial cell-phone policy
Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 8:31 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

AMERICUS, Ga. (WALB) - A new cell phone policy is now in effect at Sumter County High School. According to the school, the policy allows school officials to search confiscated electronic devices and cell phones.

The Sumter County High School has a new cell phone policy that is now i effect, so WALB came to the school to get clarification on the policy, but officials referred us to the Board of Education.

The cell phone policy at the school states “Limited electronic device use will be allowed at school in designated areas.” It goes on to say that “any material stored or saved on confiscated electronic devices/cell phones may be searched by school officials.”

According to Attorney Daryl Morton, there has to be a reasonable suspicion that the student did something wrong in order for their phones to get searched.

“When it comes to searching a cell phone, generally the cell phone has to be connected in some reasonable way to the thing they did wrong,” Morton said. “There has to be some reasonable basis for getting into the cell phone as it relates to the misconduct that you’ve searched the child for in the first place.”

Based on the legal findings about the policy, WALB went to the Sumter County Board of Education. Once there, no one would give me a response. But we spoke to a parent about the new policy, and she says she thinks the policy is an invasion of privacy.

“Well, you’re not going to go through my child’s phone. If you take it from her at the school or anything, you can call me and let me come up there and I’ll see what’s going on with it and we can go about it that way. But as far as you are taking something that you didn’t pay for, I wouldn’t allow that to happen with my child.” Kenyatta, a Sumter County parent, said.

Parents also took to Facebook to say their concerns on the new policy.

One parent says, “That’s an invasion of privacy to search a phone and you don’t pay the bill.” Another said, “I understand no phones in class, but going through their phones after confiscation is way out of bounds.”

According to Sumter County High School, any violation of the new policy can result in “Out of School Suspension” from the first offense and can be as extensive as 10 days “Out of School Suspension” with mandatory parent conferences and a referral to a tribunal.

An invasion of privacy. That’s what some parents are calling the new cell phone policy at Sumter County High School. And legal findings show that a school can make a change to the policy without the parents’ knowledge.

“I think when you adopt harsh policies, it makes it harder to get the parents to support what you’re doing,” Morton said.

Attorney Daryl Morton says a school district can legally change a policy without the parents’ knowledge, adding that it’s not always the best route to take when trying to create change within the system.

“I think the best practice is to make sure the parents know particularly if it’s a significant change because you need the parents’ help to make these policies work,” said Morton.

So, WALB came to the Sumter County Board of Education to get some clarification about the cell phone policy that goes into effect today, however, no one would give me a response.

“As a school board member, I would be happier if cell phones weren’t be brought into school at all by students unless there’s a very good reason for doing it. And I think the advice I would give to students is if you don’t want your cell phones getting searched at school, don’t bring it to school,” Morton said.

But are the consequences of bringing your phones to school too harsh? According to Sumter County High School, the first offense results in an out-of-school suspension with a mandatory parent conference before returning to school. The 4th offense is 10 days out of school suspension with a referral to a tribunal.

“With the phone part, I understand not being in class on the phones. ‘Cause when you’re in class, you’re in class to learn, but other than that, I feel like they should have their phones,” Kenyatta said.

Parents took to our WALB News 10s Facebook Page about the new cell phone policy.

One viewer says, “Absolutely not without parents involved, and even then, it’s a thin line.”

Another said, “I think the Sumter County School District needs to brush up on the Supreme Court rulings on cell phone searches.”

Morton says, in order to get the best results from students, school board members, and parents need to work together to ensure the success of the students.

“Parents want their children to do well in school. Parents don’t want their children to get in trouble. Enlist the aid of parents in getting the kind of results you want at school.”

WALB reached out to the Sumter County High School to address this new cell phone policy, and currently, no one has response has been received.