Schools try to balance the need for a safe and effective learning environment, while recognizing smartphones have become hand-held computer devices that can serve an educational function, according to Frank Belluscio, deputy executive director for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

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"Most school districts policies do require students to keep the cell phones turned off. They cannot be on the student's desk during class time, because obviously if the teacher is providing instruction, you don't want the students to be scrolling through Facebook or having other distractions from the learning program," said Belluscio.

However, Belluscio pointed out the safety factor that cell phones provide is taken into consideration.

"One thing that evolved after some of the incidents of school violence, was the recognition that these are really integral communication devices, so the balance that's being struck is requiring students to keep the cell phones turned off, although they can be in their possession, and then giving the teachers leeway to allow the students to use the cell phones, perhaps as part of the education program or the classroom learning," Belluscio said.

Many New Jersey school districts are adopting the "bring your own device" approach to technology in the classroom, which can include iPads, tablets, laptop computers, as well as cell phones, according to Belluscio.

Policies on smartphone use vary from district to district, but Belluscio uses Mendham Borough as one of example of a policy that recognizes smartphones may be necessary for after-school communication with parents, while setting regulations concerning student possession during the school day.

As far as punishment for violating a cell phone use policy, school principals usually direct what action will be taken, according to Belluscio.

"It could range from reprimand of the student to perhaps detention, whatever the school's discipline policy would call for," Belluscio said.

He pointed out that during the 1980s, the common device was a pager rather than a cell phone, and those were prohibited by state law in schools.

"As cell phone use became more commonplace, cell phones fell under those same restrictions, but of course at that time they were toll phones. They were not internet devices, texting was really not developed and there was not the photographic or video capabilities," Belluscio said.

After the Columbine High School mass shooting in 1999, it was recognized that cell phones became a critical communication device.

"So, we saw changes in school district policies to allow student possession of the cell phones," said Belluscio. "Later, when cell phones had the photographic capability there was another concern raised about student privacy, so over the years districts have been navigating these changes in technology and it is reflected in the various in the policies that you see."

Contact reporter Dianne DeOliveira at Dianne.DeOliveira@townsquaremedia.com