The Pine River-Backus School Board identified a difficult topic in the student handbook when board chair Chris Cunningham brought up cell phones in the classroom.

The school district allows teachers to determine whether cell phones are allowed in their classrooms. When reviewing changes to the handbook Monday, July 16, Cunningham asked that the cell phone policy be considered as well, saying they can pose a distraction. Cunningham didn't suggest cell phones be banned, but simply asked that the policy be reviewed for possible options. He said if parents want to reach students, they can still call the office and be forwarded to the classroom, just like parents did before students had cell phones.

High School Principal Chris Halverson said he was hesitant to change the policy. Halverson said he doesn't know of any other school that has banned cell phones in classrooms. He also said enforcement could be an issue.

Board member Dawn Rubner said she didn't want cell phones banned for safety reasons. Rubner said in the case of school emergencies such as shootings, she would rather that the students have access to their phones.

Board member Katy Botz said cell phones can be a valuable educational tool, referencing a school project where a family member had to research family history. While working on the project, the child was texting Botz, who sent information and photos through her cell phone. In addition, students in advanced math classes can use their cell phones in place of expensive calculators.

Halverson agreed to review the policy and consider options.

Changes were made in the handbook to strengthen the ban on vaping and the liquid used for vaping, treating it in the same way as tobacco products.

Another change was made to an athletic eligibility policy that previously said students who fell behind in their classes were exempt from athletic activities for two weeks minimum while catching up on classwork. The new policy would exempt them from activities for a minimum five days instead, with additional time added until that student is caught up.

Halverson said the policy change was a compromise between the two-week policy and a policy his predecessor, Andrew Forbort, worked on, which would only ban students until they had caught up, with no minimum. Halverson said the policy is in line with Pequot Lakes, who shares a wrestling team with Pine River-Backus.

He also said he thought it was important to hold students accountable, suggesting the five-day exemption may bring students on task faster, since students in the past may have put off catching up for the first week, followed by taking five days off to catch up on the final day. Halverson said the five-day exemption may cause less procrastination.

Cunningham said he would like to see language that prevents the burden from transferring to teachers if a student waits to turn in all assignments on day five, expecting to participate in activities that same day, or in the next couple days even though it may take a significant amount of time to correct and enter grades if the student is far behind.

In other action Monday, the board:

• Hired Gregg Ehlert as boys cross country coach, John Riewer as girls cross country coach, Tom Demars as varsity football coach, Mike Dinnel as assistant football coach, Rob Johnson as assistant football coach, Travis Hoffarth and Mike Lupella as junior high football coaches, Terry Holden as football scout, Joshua Hirschey as varsity volleyball coach, Nicole Hirschey and Lisa Toft as assistant volleyball coaches, and Naomi Horn as junior high volleyball coach.

• Accepted the resignation of Kyle Bergem, high school business teacher, and authorized replacement.

• Hired Nichole Bergmann as high school business teacher.

• Approved a literacy program.

• Approved a contract with the city of Pine River for police liaison services.