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Student Suspended for Cellphone Call From Mom in Iraq

Times Staff Writer

A high school junior in a central Georgia military town was suspended from school this week after refusing to end a long-distance cellphone call from his mother, an Army sergeant serving in Iraq.

Kevin Francois, a 17-year-old student at Spencer High School in Columbus, Ga., was in the school cafeteria Wednesday when his mother, Sgt. 1st Class Monique Bates, called to check in with him. When Francois went outside to get better reception, he was spotted by a teacher who -- citing a district policy against cellphone use during school hours -- told him to hang up.

Francois refused and was suspended for 10 days for disorderly conduct.

“I think I was right by not hanging up my phone,” Francois said in a phone interview Friday.

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The teen said he looked forward to the monthly call from his mother, who left in January for a one-year tour with the 203rd Forward Support Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division.

“It means a lot to me,” he said. “Between times she’s not calling me, I’m considering if she’s safe. When I hear from her, it makes my day better.”

School district officials said that Francois initially did not tell the teacher he was speaking with his mother in Iraq and that he cursed when he was instructed to hang up the phone.

“The teacher escorted the young man to the office, where assistant principals tried to get him to calm himself and to cease the use of profanity,” Muscogee County School Supt. John A. Phillips Jr. said in a statement released Friday. “It was only at this point that administrators learned he was talking to his mother in Iraq.”

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Francois says he immediately told the teacher he was speaking to his mother.

“I told her in a calm voice: ‘I’m on the phone with my mom in Iraq. I’m not going to give you the phone.’ ”

Francois said he did become frustrated when the teacher snatched his phone away. “I got some attitude,” he said. “But I didn’t curse. I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t talk to her. I kept pleading and pleading.”

The school set Francois’ suspension at 10 days after exhibiting “defiance and profanity” in an administrator’s office, Phillips said.

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District policy allows students to have cellphones on campus, but they may not be used during school hours. The rule was designed “to preserve instructional time and decorum in our schools,” Phillips said.

Michelle Joyner of the National Military Family Assn., a private nonprofit support group for military families, said Friday that any communication with a family member deployed in Iraq should be approached sensitively.

“Kids do need that contact,” Joyner said. “Just to hear and say hello and be able to know that your loved one is safe. It’s also important for the parent to continue to have parental involvement and know how their kid is doing.”

Francois is scheduled to meet with school administrators Monday. His suspension may be reduced to three days so that he can take his final exams. More than 3,700 students from military families are enrolled in the Muscogee district.

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Francois said his mother did not find out about his suspension until he e-mailed her an article from the local newspaper Friday.

“She was mad,” he said.


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