Schools don't need to look through cell phones

The school district in Oak Harbor is considering adopting a policy to allow searches. It's an invasion of privacy -- and unnecessary.

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Cyberbullying is a serious problem, particularly among teenagers. And school officials have an obligation to take action to stop cyberbullying -- or old-fashinoned bullying -- on school property.

But a proposed cyberbullying policy in Oak Harbor goes way too far.

The Herald of Everett reported Oak Harbor school principals might start looking through cell phones. The Snohomish County district wants principals to confiscate and search electronic devices when they suspect students of using their phones to harass others via e-mail, text message or by sending photos. The proposed policy would extend to messages and images sent outside of school hours if that content was then shared during school.

Some students and parents are protesting the proposed policy because they believe it is a clear invasion of privacy. These students and parents are correct.

While school officials across the country certainly have the power to control what does and doesn't go on at school, including imposing dress codes and conducting searches of lockers and even backpacks under certain circumstances (such as when a crime is suspected), a cell phone search should be beyond their scope.

Cell phones often contain private, personal information that has zero to do with school. Schools simply have no reason to go there.

If the goal is to curb cyberbullying at school, that can be accomplished easily by checking out the electronic device of the alleged victim (with permission, of course).

Confiscating cell phones and scrolling through their contents is nothing but a fishing expedition. It seems this proposed cyberbullying policy seeks to do more than stop cyberbullies.

Schools can -- and should -- confiscate cell phones and other high-tech devices when they are used during class or at other inappropriate times. Those devices should be secured until the appropriate time they can be returned to either the students or their parents.

This proposed policy is not only an invasion of privacy, it is unnecessary.



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