(04/12/2018)
SOCIAL MEDIA PHOTOGRAPHY SCHOOL PROBLEM

School district officials in Ritchie County have introduced a new acceptable use policy regarding cell phones, in the wake of a number of fights and threats that triggered concerns on social media.

"It was a tough three week period that we went through with all of our middle school, elementary, and high schools," Superintendent Rick Coffman acknowledged Tuesday.

The turmoil began last month, after videos of two fights surfaced on Facebook. Coffman told us then that the fights happened the same day on the Ritchie County High School and Middle School campus.

"[I'm] disgusted, scared for my son, and for the child that was getting beat up," said one parent, who asked to remain anonymous.

The videos sparked concerns among parents, who raised questions about safety in the schools.

Coffman said the videos gave parents the wrong impression about the environment within the county's schools.

"A student will, for instance, video a fight," said Coffman. "Now you have the opportunity, with the cell phone and improved technology, to video that fight and instantly drop it to thousands and thousands of people. That creates anxiety because it makes it look like you don't have a safe school."

"We haven't had anymore fights than we had last year or the five years before that," he continued.

Since then, district officials have also had to respond to threats made against Ritchie County Middle School. Coffman said buzz about these threats made its way to an elementary school, causing confusion there.

The common denominator behind these incidents was the use of cell phone and social media.

"Some [students], not all of them, can't handle the responsibility of having that cell phone in their hand, because it can be used maliciously and it was," Coffman said. "So that's proof that we do need the policy."

The proposed policy is still in a comment period and Coffman declined to discuss specifics, but he said the policy will mirror the existing acceptable use policy that applies to computers. He added that the parents and students will be required to sign off on the policy, with an understanding that any violations will result in punishment.

"It's important so that we don't have disruption of the educational process and we don't have students or parents thinking that they're anxious about being in our schools," Coffman explained.


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