The Union public school board of education approved a policy allowing students to use electronic devices at school, but not before discussing the merits of cellphone use outside the classroom.

The R-XI board approved board policies that govern the use of technology within the district, as well as student handbooks that include the perimeters of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program.

The program encourages students to bring their personal electronic devices, including smartphones, laptops and tablets, to the classroom and use them for assignments and research projects. It was developed by Union High School teachers, the district technology department and administration.

Board member Dr. Virgil Weideman questioned portions of the policy that allows students to use the devices on school grounds while class is not in session.

“I don’t see the educational benefit of letting (students use devices) before and after school and during lunches,” said Weideman

Dr. Justin Tarte, director of curriculum and support services, said having an “open network” throughout the school day is beneficial to students, and limits the unauthorized use of devices.

“We will see a decrease of kids misusing devices because they have an opportunity to use the device,” he said.

Weideman argued that there will be little educational use of devices before or after school.

“I believe kids will spend 98 percent of the time texting friends, taking pictures and sending them …” he said. “It also opens the school up for a lot of liability.”

Union Middle School Principal Ty Crain said the majority of the texts or phone calls students receive at school now is from their parents.

“I confidently feel that we will see a decrease in discipline,” Tarte added.

Crane added that the current policy that forbids cellphone use during school is difficult to enforce.

Weideman also suggested that students be required to turn phones off during classes when they are not using them for educational purposes. The technology policy allows them to keep the phones on, but in silent mode.

According to Superintendent Steve Bryant, each building administrator will provide a report to the board of education, including discipline referrals, as suggested by Weideman.

Board member Dr. Ron Sohn suggested that the report include the positive impact of the BYOD program.

Internet usage would go through the school’s filtered system, so students wouldn’t be going to sites that were unacceptable or prohibited by the school.

Bringing devices wouldn’t be mandatory for students, but would broaden, enhance and strengthen learning opportunities for students.

“This is voluntary on the part of teachers,” said Bryant. “We certainly want to have the capability for those who are more comfortable with that instructional practice.”

With readily available devices, students will be in control of their learning and they will be able to find information and they’re able to find it quickly.

“The kids are light years ahead of most adults,” Bryant added. “They have grown up in that culture. We live in an information age and we’re trying to teach kids 21st-century skills.”