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New policy for Buffalo School Board members: Put down the cellphones

Who hasn't used their smartphone at work to send a text, scroll through emails or search the internet?

Well, no more if you're a member of the Buffalo Board of Education.

The board passed a policy Wednesday that says School Board members and executive-level staff will "refrain from using electronic communication devices during meetings."

The issue was raised awhile back by Board Members Theresa Harris-Tigg and Sharon Belton-Cottman, who felt board members were paying attention to their phones a little too often during the course of the meetings. Constituents apparently noticed, too, and commented to them.

"The purpose of this policy is to ensure that Board of Education meetings are the exclusive time reserved for the board to discuss school board business, agenda items and other matters critical to the operation of the school district," the policy reads. "It is to further ensure that the board maintains its responsibility to the public to ensure that its efforts at board meetings are exclusively dedicated to the aformentioned tasks."

That doesn't prohibit the board members from using a computer during meetings – each is equipped with a laptop to view items on the agenda – as long as it's used for board business. And in the event of an emergency and someone does need to use their cellphone – take it out of the room.

The policy was brought up in October, but with only six of the nine board members in attendance that night the resolution was defeated. Belton-Cottman brought it back up for vote Wednesday, and this time the policy had the necessary five votes.

The others were less than thrilled.

"I don't believe adults need to police each other regarding cellphone use," said North District Board Member Hope Jay.

Jay and fellow Board Members Larry Quinn and Patricia Pierce voted against a policy. West District Board Member Jennifer Mecozzi was not in attendance.

Jay agreed board members shouldn't take inconsequential phone calls or texts during the meetings, and wasn't opposed to establishing some basic guidelines – but said it doesn't warrant a board policy.

"In this digital age," she said, "cellphones are extensions of our work and serve multiple purposes."

"My phone is my computer," Pierce said. "I reference my Board of Education emails constantly and often pull up information on the internet on various topics discussed during the meeting."


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