Cell phone policies change for all Sarasota County schools

Almost no one leaves home without their cell phone, but when students go back to school in Sarasota County, there are some new rules they'll have to follow.

When the first bell rings Monday at Gulf Gate Elementary School, students must have their cell phones turned off and put away.

The rules are also changing at middle and high schools. The school board spent about six months fine-tuning their new cell phone policy.

It was approved in June. The former policy was very generic and did not say much so board members came up with this:

- In elementary schools, cell phones must be turned off and put away.

- In middle school, the same rule applies, but they can be used if teachers allow it for a classroom activity.

- High-schoolers have a little more leeway.  They are allowed to use phones in-between periods and lunchtime.

School board member Jane Goodwin said students are in school to learn and there are only so many hours spent inside a classroom each day, so distractions have to be minimized.

"I want them to make sure they keep them put away and I want them to understand the importance of being present, instructional day, learning new things, and they can't do that if they're worried about their cell phone," Goodwin said.

Goodwin says under Florida law they could not issue a complete cell phone ban. It will be up to each principal to decide what happens if a student is caught violating policies.