Teacher suspended for using cell phone jammer in class

Cell phone jammer (AFP Photo / Roslan Rahman)
A Florida high school teacher has been suspended for doing something most educators only dream of trying: Using a cell phone jammer in his science classroom. While the device was meant to get students to focus, it instead caused a disruption of its own.

Dean Liptak wanted his Fivay High School students to become smarter by paying attention to his science lesson instead of their smartphones, so he bought a cell phone jamming device online and brought it into his classroom. He used the equipment over the course of three days, from March 31 to April 2.

“My intent for using the device was to keep students academically focused on schoolwork,” Liptak wrote in a letter to the school district. “It is counter productive to stop instruction and lose academic focus when I have to tell a student to put his or her cell phone away. It is also unproductive to confiscate a cell phone, put it in the school-approved box and keep it until the end of the period.”

A selection of cell phone jammers sold online (Screenshot from Amazon.com)

Liptak said he had done extensive research into the devices before purchasing one.

“I found that they are being used in universities, schools, churches and businesses, but I still did more research because I didn’t want to do anything that was illegal,” he wrote.

A deputy on the local police force told him that there are no state laws against cell phone jammers, as long as they are not used maliciously, Liptak wrote. The deputy added that his sergeant had confirmed that the only state law was against selling the devices.

The problem, though, was not in state laws, but federal ones. The Federal Communications Commission bans the use of cell phone jammers without federal authorization.

“Federal law provides no exemption for use of a signal jammer by school systems, police departments, or other state and local authorities. Only federal agencies are eligible to apply for and receive authorization,” the FCC said in a December enforcement advisory.

The jammer affected a much larger area than Liptak was expecting, although he said he tested the equipment both inside and outside his classroom.

"Verizon had come to the school saying someone had a jamming device, because the cell phone service was being interrupted in the area," Pasco County School District Spokeswoman Linda Cobbe told WTSP.

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Initially the school administration believed that a student had the device, the school district’s director of the Office for Employee Relations, Betsy Kuhn, told Bay News 9.

“There was some issues with the signal all through the school, people were complaining about it, and during that time he wasn’t saying, 'oh it’s me, I’ve got the jammer,' it was not a word,” Kuhn said.

The jammer had blocked communication to the cell tower located on the Fivay High campus in Hudson, Florida.

"The consequences could have been dire, if he was jamming the signal so 911 calls can [not] be made. It would affect an emergency in the school," Cobbe said.

On Tuesday, the school district suspended Liptak for five days without pay. The suspension was handed down by the school district in the middle of the final week of classes, so it will carry over into the next academic year, Bay News 9 reported.

Even before bringing the cell phone jammer to school, Liptak had reputation among students.

“Everyone at school knows who he is,” student Braxton Mora told Bay News 9. “He’s a little out there, he’s kind of extreme.”

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It’s not the first time Liptak has created controversy in his classroom by expressing frustration with students. In January 2013, he received a letter from the Fivay administration “addressing concerns about poor judgment” after he created “an instructional worksheet containing inappropriate content,” Pasco County School District Superintendent Kurt Browning wrote in Litpak’s letter of suspension.

According to WTSP, the worksheet contained questions including, “A 50 kg student has a momentum of 500 kg m/s as the teacher launches him toward the wall, what is the velocity of the student heading toward the wall?”

Litpak is a former professional wrestler, making up one half of the wrestling duo ‘The Power Company Twins’ with his brother. That information did not placate parents’ unhappiness with the question.

"I would wonder why on earth they would put that kind of wording," William Brown, whose son attended the school, said at the time. "It has violent overtones and it's inappropriate."

Browning warned Liptak that the letter of suspension serves as a “last chance agreement for your employment with the District,” the superintendent wrote. “If similar behavior regarding poor judgment happens again, after investigation, a recommendation for the termination of your employment will be sent to the [School] Board.”

Liptak countered that “poor judgment” is a “very subjective statement,” but admitted he wished he had gone to the school administration before employing the cell phone jammer.