Special Report
Accountability

Student Out for Months Over Cellphone Allegation

January 04, 2013 4 min read

For James Parker, an alleged misunderstanding about a cellphone at school 2½ years ago morphed into months of missed school, failed classes, and fallout that he and his family are still trying to address.

When James was a freshman two years ago at O’Bannon High School in Greenville, Miss., a teacher thought she saw him with a cellphone in class—a violation of school rules. In reality, he was listening to a classmate’s iPod during a break the teacher had given the students.

The next day, he was called into the assistant principal’s office, where he was asked to produce the phone. Although his parents told school officials that he didn’t own a phone, and the student who loaned the iPod that was at the heart of the issue vouched for sharing it with him, the school seemed to dig in its heels.

“We were informed that in order for my child to come to school, we had to produce a cellphone,” says Wanda Parker, the teenager’s mother. Until then, he could not come to school.

James Parker, 18, seen at his family's home in Greenville, Miss., was sent to an alternative school after running afoul of school rules.

Charging up an old phone and giving it to the school wouldn’t do: The school wanted a functioning cellphone. James eventually had a hearing at the behest of the state department of education, because the agency said James couldn’t be out of school for no reason. The school district filed his behavior under the category of insubordination. When his parents appealed to a disciplinary committee, the suspension was upheld. The young man was assigned to an alternative school.

Since James’ saga began, O’Bannon High has hired a new principal, Derrick Cook. He says the district’s electronic-device policy is still in force, but now the school is more inclined to give students some benefit of the doubt.

“We do take into consideration witnesses’ statements from the entire class, instead of just going by one person,” Cook says. “There is an opportunity for a child to vindicate themselves.”

Still, says Assistant Principal Michael Ray, the school must police cellphone use on campus. District policy says students will be suspended for five days if they use a cellphone at school. If they turn in the phone, to be kept by the school until the end of the school year, they can avoid the suspension. If they don’t hand it over, they must attend an alternative school until they do, Ray says.

“We don’t want the child out of school for a stinking cellphone,” he says, but parents are informed of the school district policy when they sign the district handbook at the beginning of each year. “Our hands are tied.”

At the alternative school, James says, he often spent the day napping.

Short of a few brief writing exercises, he says, “I was doing nothing.” Every once in a while, he’d fill out the same sheet of paper: “I go to O’Bannon school. My name is James Parker. I am in the alternative school. What can I do to not come back, to improve my behavior?” he’d write. “I am in the alternative program for a failure—a device that wasn’t mine that I didn’t give up.”

And then, he says, “when you finish, that’s it. You go to sleep.”

Falling Behind

His parents signed him up for an online test-prep program he used at home to try to keep from falling behind, and James pestered his teachers for schoolwork, to no avail. Meanwhile, his mother was kicking herself for transferring James to the 2,000-student Western Line school district. He’d been enrolled in another district, where she worked, but she and her husband, Roosevelt, thought it made sense for James to go to a neighborhood school.

The Parkers didn’t give up their protest of James’ placement. But it was almost two months before the state education department again intervened and James left the alternative placement and returned to O’Bannon.

James ended up failing math for the year and had to go to summer school to pass and get promoted to 10th grade. But he never seemed to catch up. His grades were poor, making him ineligible for extracurricular activities. At the end of 10th grade, he failed state tests in math, reading, and biology.

“The child wasn’t heard out,” says Roosevelt Parker, the student’s father. “The principal wasn’t open-minded. What are they trying to do?”

Now a junior at O’Bannon, James must keep taking the state tests until he passes to collect his diploma.

“If we haven’t passed, we can’t walk. We don’t graduate. I can’t get my diploma and go to college,” he says.

See Also

Read a related Quality Counts story: Discipline Policies Shift With Views on What Works

Joyce Parker, who is a member of the nonprofit Mississippi Delta Catalyst Roundtable and is no relation to James Parker’s family, says his story illustrates how indiscriminately some districts use suspension as a punishment, without considering the long-term effects. She is also on the coordinating committee of Dignity in Schools, a New York City-based advocacy group that works on curbing out-of-school suspension.

“We’re not talking about guns and weapons here,” she says. “We’re talking about minor infractions.”

Related Tags:

Coverage of school climate and student behavior and engagement is supported in part by grants from the Atlantic Philanthropies, the NoVo Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, and the California Endowment.
Nirvi Shah, Writer contributed to this article.

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Accountability Opinion Absenteeism Is the Wrong Student Engagement Metric to Use Right Now
In a post-pandemic era for school accountability, let’s focus on measuring what matters.
Sara Johnson, Annette Anderson & Ruth R. Faden
4 min read
Figure being erased.
Getty
Accountability Biden Education Team Squashes States' Push to Nix All Tests but Approves Other Flexibility
The department has telegraphed its decision to deny states' requests to cancel federally mandated tests for weeks.
3 min read
A first-grader learns keyboarding skills at Bayview Elementary School in San Pablo, Calif on March 12, 2015. Schools around the country are teaching students as young as 6 years old, basic typing and other keyboarding skills. The Common Core education standards adopted by a majority of states call for students to be able to use technology to research, write and give oral presentations, but the imperative for educators arrived with the introduction of standardized tests that are taken on computers instead of with paper and pencils.
The U.S. Department of Education denied some states' requests to cancel standardized tests this year. Others are seeking flexibility from some testing requirements, rather than skipping the assessments altogether.
Eric Risberg/AP
Accountability Explainer Will There Be Standardized Tests This Year? 8 Questions Answered
Educators want to know: Will the exams happen? If so, what will they look like, and how will the results be used?
12 min read
Students testing.
Getty
Accountability Opinion What Should School Accountability Look Like in a Time of COVID-19?
Remote learning is not like in person, and after nine months of it, data are revealing how harmful COVID-19 has been to children's learning.
6 min read
Image shows a speech bubble divided into 4 overlapping, connecting parts.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty and Laura Baker/Education Week