TIFTON -- A vote on a new policy that would have allowed the use of cell phones on school grounds failed Tuesday after Tift County School Board members expressed concerns about possible abuses of the privilege.

"I think we're opening Pandora's Box," said board member John Smith, a former school principal. "I don't see the logic to allowing this on campus. We have a lot of things that are more important to this school system than cell phones. I cannot see the value of even having them."

Current policies do not allow the phones on school campuses, but Tift County High School Assistant Principal Brian Smith said a sizable number of students already have cell phones and use them in their cars or in restrooms. Administrators confiscate phones that are actually seen or heard in the school.

"In our opinion, we're not living in the same day and time we were 10 or 15 years ago," said Eighth Street Principal Ryan Gravitt. "When you have a child that participates in a lot of extracurricular activities, it can actually be peace of mind to the parents to know the child has a cell phone."

The proposed policy, defeated by a 4-2 vote, would have allowed students to use phones only outside school buildings before and after school and during lunch. The phones would have been required to be in the "power off" mode while inside the building.

Board member Joseph Carter said he believed the policy was too broadly written. "I don't have a problem with their having their cell phones in their cars," said Carter. "I have a problem with their carrying them in school, and a lot of children are not going to have a car to keep their phone in.

"...Many students are going to have their cell phones in their pocket all during the day, and they can do all kinds of things with cell phones now, like text messaging and taking photos."

As a compromise, the board discussed having students keep the telephones in their lockers. But Superintendent Harold Abbott said he thought the locker requirement would "just create another level of punishment" for students who might claim to have forgotten to go to their lockers.

The policy will go back to committee for further consideration.

In other action, the board:

Heard from local attorney Johnny Spurlin, who protested a recent decision to leave basketball concessions in the hands of the Tift County High School Band Boosters. Spurlin said he had nothing bad to say about the band, but thought the basketball program should profit from concessions bought during basketball games.

"I believe this decision was based on the wrong principles," said Spurlin. "It needs to be based on something equal and fair, but I believe it was based on who was involved...The band is a hard-working organization; so is basketball. The band has a well-oiled booster club, and the basketball team doesn't have that same level of support."

Heard a financial report from Abbott, who said the school system is currently in good shape but may face difficulties next fiscal year if the state's finances don't improve. Abbott said he has heard rumors of a possible 2 1/2 percent cut in state funding at mid-term but could not say whether the cuts would actually be made.

Recognized TCHS FFA students Ross Cargile, Laura Nehring, Corey Thompson, Eve Felton and Lindsey Towson for receiving honors on the state and/or national level. FFA instructor Lynn Cook said the Tift FFA chapter has the most gold emblem winners of any FFA chapter in the nation this year.

Approved a request for TCHS students to participate in Tift Regional Medical Center's Fall Disaster Drill, a mock tornado at the TCHS campus.

To contact city editor Florence Rankin, call 382-4321, ext. 209.

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