Ketchikan schools walk back policy allowing administrators to force students to unlock phones

Ketchikan school administration officials have walked back a proposed cell phone policy that had explicitly warned students they could expect no privacy on their devices while on school grounds.

An earlier draft included language stating that students had “no expectation of confidentiality” when it came to personal cell phones. It also empowered school district authorities to compel students to unlock their devices for inspection on demand.

But that language was removed following a review by the borough attorney.

School Board President Matt Eisenhower says he’d had concerns of potential overreach.

“The conversation about the privacy issue is really the one that we’re trying to discern as to what right school administrators have in looking at an electronic device,” Eisenhower said.

References to students waiving confidentiality have been removed. Administrators will not have the explicit right to force students to unlock their phones.

But it does limit phone use to high school students between classes and meals. And it empowers faculty to confiscate phones used in violation of the policy.

Phone use by middle school students and elementary students is prohibited.

There will be a public hearing on the policy at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting.

In related news, Ketchikan’s school board is considering tightening its policy for school-related travel. Going forward, all travel outside of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough would require approval from the superintendent’s office.

The board will also discuss what it’s looking for in a permanent superintendent. Beth Lougee has been serving as the interim since early this year. The board is working to craft its hiring process and has indicated it could offer her the job.

Board president Matt Eisenhower says transparency in the hiring process is important.

“The point of that is to make sure that the item is discussed long enough so that there’s public conversation, there’s public input,” Eisenhower said.