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Complaints target too much cell phone use during school board meetings

WBFO's Mike Desmond

It is not an unusual complaint: people sitting around a table discussing important issues - while staring at their cell phones. This time, the complaints are coming from television audiences watching Buffalo School Board meetings.

The School Board talked around the issue for a while Wednesday, but ultimately decided to have General Counsel Nathaniel Kuzma draft a policy about the use of cell phones around the Board table. Still, that might all change in three weeks when the board paperwork will be completely on laptop screens.

Board Member Theresa Harris-Tigg said people complained to her.

"They nailed it for me a couple of meetings, more than a few, many meetings, many, many board members on phones for long periods of time, as well as staff," she said. "They also noted staff in the area. This video they're doing is a wide view and they're talking about being on the phone 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 minutes per meeting and people are appalled by it."

Several Board members admitted they are dealing with family issues on those phones, even during the meetings, and said they are aware the school system has limits on use of cell phones by students. However, Board Member Hope Jay said she will not give it up.

"I am not going to walk into this room like I'm 12 years old and put my phone in a basket, because my daughter might need to get into touch with me during a five-hour meeting," she said. "If we were here for an hour, okay, but we're here for five. So it's unrealistic that someone isn't going to need to get in touch with me."

Kuzma said cell phone use during meetings it is a concern for a lot of school boards.

"So that it can continue the discussion and set some ground rules for how cell phones are used at the board table," Kuzma said. "This is something that is being dealt with by a lot of boards around New York State and certainly something that is of interest to our board."

Student Support Associate Superintendent Eric Rosser said the rules are in the student Code of Conduct.

"It may authorize appropriate use of a cell phone in a class when it's used for educational purposes only - and only when authorization is given by the classroom teacher," Rosser said. "So that's been written in our Code of Conduct since 2013."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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