TEXAS VIEW: Schools must adapt to ongoing changes

By Beaumont Enterprise

A generation ago schools didn’t have to deal with cellphones or social media, and problems with clothing or hair standards seemed tame by today’s standards. But those issues and others are modern realities for teachers and administrators, who have to adapt to these rapid changes without losing focus on their primary mission. The key seems to be dealing with them in ways that can enhance education — and get away from daily skirmishes that frustrate teachers and students.

Many schools are still deciding whether to fight cellphones or find ways to manage them. The trend is toward grudging acceptance, with the number of schools banning them declining from 91 percent to 66 percent, according to one study.

Some teachers, like Susan Letourneau at Lumberton High School, allow students to use cellphones in class to solve math problems in competition with one another.

Most schools realize that by now cellphones have become routine possessions for virtually all students over a certain age — an age that seems to keep dropping. That can’t be changed, and unauthorized cellphone use during class time is never OK. But by allowing options such as phone use during lunch or between classes, some principals are finding ways to tolerate new technology without letting it interfere.

The same questions apply to dress-code battles. Hairstyles like dreadlocks were once considered extreme but are now mainstream. Years ago no teenager would come to school with torn clothes but today “distressed” jeans are fashionable. Dyed hair was once unacceptable, but some schools allow it now.

Schools that minimize conflicts over these issues seem to have clear-cut rules — and a degree of flexibility. Granted, some students will keep pushing the boundaries of any guidelines, and at some point a principal must say no.

But the goal should be making sure that clothing or hair don’t distract others without, say, sending a student home because a shirt is a half-inch too short.

In 10 years, schools will have other challenges to deal with that no one can conceive of now. Then, as now, they need to find the right balance to keep these issues in perspective instead of letting them drive policy.