By JOHN T. WARD
A Rumson-Fair Haven Regional senior wants the school to drop a ban on student use of cellphones in school hallways between classes.
James Rue, 17, of Fair Haven, presented the school’s board of education with a petition Tuesday night calling for changes to the policy, which administrators said is being enforced anew after some unintended laxity.
Students, however, contend the crackdown was triggered by an incident last year in which a male student took “upskirt” videos of female students in stairwells without their knowledge.
Rue and other students contend they’re being unfairly punished for the “sickening” actions of one student.
“I’ve seen students getting vultured out of the hall” and given detention notices, he told redbankgreen.
Superintendent Pete Righi declined to discuss the stairwell incident, but told redbankgreen it had nothing to with the renewed enforcement. “That’s not an issue,” he said.
Limits on cellphone usage have been in place for several years, Righi said, but enforcement fell off last year, and so he directed that it be revived this year. Rather, it’s a safety issue, he said.
“The major reason is that you’ve got 1,000 kids walking with their heads downs, looking at their phones,” he said. “We can’t have them bumping each other and tripping.”
He said a secondary concern was the potential for cheating, with the phones enabling students who’ve just taken a test to immediately share its questions and answers with others who are about to do so.
Students are permitted to use their phones and other devices in the cafeteria, during study hall and and in classes when the teacher allows it, he said.
The RFH student handbook requires all internet devices be registered with school, and can only access the web though the school’s wireless system. Policy also bans phone use in restrooms and stairwells, which Rue said he has no objection to.
But automatic one-hour detentions for using a phone in a corridor during the four-minute interval between classes is “unjust,” Rue wrote in an essay Rue posted online with his petition.
From the essay:
Every school day lasts over seven hours, and the combination of class, extra-curriculars and homework, provide little time for students to “relax”. Students deserve a break for 4 minutes between periods, and in this technology driven world, cell phones are obviously a part of this so-called “break”. Whether it be texting my friends, browsing social media, looking at my Powerschool, checking in with my sister (who lives 1,716 miles away), last-minute studying before a test, or any of the other possibilities that phones have to offer, the 4 minutes between classes are some of the few non-stressful parts of my day. While it may seem comical to someone who did not grow up in this generation, this is how today’s world is, and taking phones away from students is simply unfair.
By the time of Tuesday’s meeting, Rue’s petition had garnered support from 674 students, alumni and others, he told the board.
Rue read from a comment by 2016 RFH graduate who’d said been a victim of the upskirt incident and complained that, instead of expelling the violator, the school “punished the innocent” with the ban. Her comment could not be found online Wednesday morning.
Her anger was echoed by other commenters upset that a “sex offender” and “pervert” was still attending the school while the rest of the student body was being made to pay for his actions.
One commenter called the crackdown “simply unnecessary and overbearing,” and “limiting our ability to be responsible human beings.”
“No one runs into each other” another wrote. “Give us a better reason.”
At the end of Rue’s presentation, Righi told him the board would discuss the matter and consult with other administrators before getting back to him with a response.
An unrelated prong of Rue’s petition addressed another crackdown: one on signs held up by cheering fans in the “Dawg Pound” at the school’s home football stadium.
Rue, a starting defensive tackle on the team, said school officials had gone into the Borden Stadium stands during the Bulldogs’s September 9 season opener against Raritan, removing handheld signs.
Righi acknowledged the action, which he said was necessary to keep the school in compliance with New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletics Association and Shore Conference rules banning signs that are not affixed to buildings and structures.
The NJISAA’s “crowd control” handbook says that “Only the school banner or sportsmanship creed should be displayed and placed on the participant’s side of the field.”
Rue said he understood the school’s need to comply, but wrote in his petition that “the signs in the stands and the rowdy chants made the first half incredible” for the players on the field. “After halftime, the signs were gone and the section was quieted,” he wrote.
Still, the Bulldogs won, 41-0.
After a bye week last week, they’re scheduled to play at home against Holmdel Friday at 7 p.m.