A local woman and school officials have differing takes on an incident involving a first-grader whose GPS-locator watch was confiscated by a teacher.
Cayden Phillippi, 6, attends Southern Elementary. He’s been through a lot in his short life — losing his father Josef in a fatal car accident on Ky. 461 on September 6, 2013, and before that, enduring a cancer diagnosis for his mother that put her presence in his life in constant question.
“Nobody can understand how traumatic it’s been for this baby,” said his mother, Jaymee Phillippi. “He won’t go from one end of the house to the other (by himself). He won’t go with his grandparents because he’s afraid I might die when I’m not there. ... He literally vomits (from panic episodes).”
Jaymee said that a year before Cayden’s father’s untimely death, she was admitted to the hospital for the treatment of her cancer.
“I every time he came home and I was in the hospital, he was afraid I was going to die,” she said. “Then one day, he comes home and his dad is dead.”
To ease his burden, Cayden wears a special watch with a GPS locator on it that allows Jaymee to track his movements — for his own piece of mind.
It essentially functions as a limited phone — Jaymee describes it as an “Inspector Gadget wristwatch” that you can speak into — though it has no other features of a smartphone, such as games, a keyboard, or a camera. It does have a red panic button that Cayden can hit if there’s a problem and he can be located.
When the battery apparently started losing power in class Tuesday, the device started beeping while Cayden was in class. This led to the teacher confiscating it.
“The teacher called me and said he couldn’t have it in class,” said Jaymee. “I asked if it was an ongoing problem or if he he plays with it in class. She said no, but he’s not allowed to have it.”
Different schools in the Pulaski County School System have different policies regarding electronic devices. Southern Elementary has a no-phone policy for its students. Pulaski Schools assistant superintendent Sonya Wilds said she didn’t know of any elementary school in the system that allowed such devices, but Jaymee said she’d never had any problems at Cayden’s old school, Shopville Elementary.
Since the accident involving Josef happened so close to their house, the Phillippis moved, forcing Cayden to change school districts. Jaymee noted that they didn’t really get off on the right foot with Southern Elementary upon arrival, but it’s this latest incident that has really become a problem.
“I went to talk to the principal,” she said “He was very rude and condescending. He said the smart watch was a phone. I said (Cayden’s) dad passed away, and the watch made him always feel connected to me. (The administrator) had a ‘because I said so’ attitude, and never gave a direct reason why (the watch wasn’t allowed).”
She then contacted Pulaski assistant superintendent Patrick Richardson, who “was nice about it” but noted that individual schools had their own policies about phones and electronics.
“My daughters go to Southwestern and they could have a phone,” said Jaymee. “I’m not trying to go against the rules. If every school was not allowed to have phones, it would be fine, but all the other schools have them.”
Wilds and Richardson noted that Jaymee Phillippi had spoken with Southern assistant principal Kent Mayfield about the matter, and that she was “extremely upset,” as Wilds put it.
“I said, ‘Ma’am, I’d be happy to talk to the principal and assistant principal and advocate for (you),’” said Richardson, “... but the final decision is handled at the school level. When I told her that, she got pretty hostile pretty quick. She said, ‘I guess I’ll take my child to Somerset Christian School.’”
Richardson said he was told by Mayfield and principal Keith Patrick that Phillippi “didn’t give them much of an opportunity to discuss much with them as well. ... She wasn’t willing to sit down and talk to the principal because she was so upset the watch had been taken. I don’t know if it was ever said that the child couldn’t bring it back.”
Richardson said he wouldn’t “dictate from (his) position” what the policy regarding the smart watch should be, but said that he would prefer to “work toward” an agreement that would possibly make an allowance for the child to be able to use the device at school.
When asked if that would be possible, Patrick said, “Anything’s possible. ... Our doors are always open.”
He also said that the watch “is a cell phone” and that it “looks like a watch.” It had been on the child for three months without anybody knowing about it.
“Here at school, (students’ phones) stay in their backpacks,” he said. “After school, they can get them out, use them on the bus, whatever else.
“We asked (Phillippi) when she was here to put up her phone because she had it out in the hallways,” he added. “We ask outside visitors to put their phones up because of the safety of the students.”
Jaymee Phillippi said that she’s working on getting a doctor’s note to try to get the school to allow Cayden to carry the device there. However, “if they still choose to single out my child, I will choose to seek (legal) counsel.”
For Patrick, it’s a “non-issue” because the device is a phone and phones are not allowed at school.
However, “if there are special circumstances and things we need to talk about, we don’t need a (doctor’s note),” said Wilds, “We will work with (Phillippi).”