Parent group advocates cell phone restrictions
By Halle Wyatt, Co-Content Editor
Cell phones have served as one of the most controversial technologies of the past decade. As the influence of cellular devices on both culture and society evolves, phones are prompting wider discussion regarding their effects on mental and emotional health. With the publication of new research investigating the impact of cell phones, a national campaign to restrict cell phone usage in schools has spread to the island.
Research cited on awayfortheday.org shows that adolescents are feeling 31 percent lonelier in 2015 than in 2011 and that 75 percent of teachers have noticed a decrease in students’ attention spans since cell phones have become more popular. In response to these findings, local parents concerned about the risks of high cell phone usage started the local chapter of Away for the Day campaign last year.
In order to combat these risks, Away for the Day is calling for policy change within the school district that would require both middle and high school students to keep their cell phones in a separate location within the school for the entirety of the school day. However, there will not be a complete ban of cell phones on school premises.
“If we were asking for a ban we’d get a really strong kickback from [the community],” parent member Josephine Hutton said. “We’re just asking for a tighter reinforcement of the broad policies that exist. [Banning is] not practical. We’re aware that lots of kids rely on [phones] particularly for arrangements with families or life before and after school.”
Principal Danny Rock has been included in some discussions with the group and has expressed his doubts about holding the school responsible for finding a solution.
“My main concern with this movement by the parent group right now is that it’s taking a family decision and it’s asking the school to solve this… problem,” Rock said.
Last year, the group passed a petition around the community to assess support. In just a few days, they had 298 signatures from island parents. Their other methods to call attention to the issue include participating at school board meetings, speaking with school district members, and drafting a formal policy change.
One of the largest problems that phones have caused in schools is that teachers have to put in extra time and effort solely to control their usage.
“Lots of teachers have had to try to use different methods so it creates quite a bit of inequity between how teachers have to try to deal with it,” Hutton said. “We feel like the teachers don’t need the additional stress.”
Hutton believes that controlling cell phone usage distracts teachers from the primary goals of their profession.
“Teachers are here to teach students and take care of their well being and manage their safety,” she said. “They’re not really here to police cell phone use. That’s not what most of them signed up to be teachers for.”
Although students understand that managing cell phones can be extra work for teachers, they also think that further restrictions will either fail to solve the problem or worsen it altogether.
“I feel like it would create unnecessary friction between faculty and students because … I know teenagers and if they don’t want to do something, then they’re just not gonna do it,” junior Devlan Ostrum said.
Principal Danny Rock agrees with students in that he believes the potential policy will be difficult to control and fracture the relationship between staff and students.
“There will be students that will defy [the] rule, hide their cell phones, keep them, and have them out when they supposedly shouldn’t have them at all,” Rock said. “Then that phone represents nothing but getting into trouble.”
Rock emphasized that he does agree that cell phones do distract and negatively impact the mental health of students. However, he doesn’t think that Away for the Day’s solution will be as effective as they hope.
“The last rule that I ever want to create in working with young people is a rule I can’t enforce,” Rock said. “If I create a rule and I can’t enforce it, I am setting myself up to be unfair in how I enforce that rule and I am going to end up enforcing it to the people that I’m seeing violating it as opposed to all the people I don’t see violating it.”
History teacher Heather Jurs has chosen to manage the distraction of cell phones by assigning each student a number that correlates to a slot in a box where they will keep their phones for the duration of the class period.
“[The system] has definitely reduced the cell phone usage in my classroom as a whole,” Jurs said. “I know that not every student puts their phone in there and some classes are better than others about it, but it at least gives that consistent message that your phone should not be out and I shouldn’t know that you have a phone with you. … I think it has been a positive change for my classroom for students’ learning.”
Although Jurs is supportive of the campaign’s message, she has often used cell phones for activities in her classes which she believes are important to students’ understanding of the subject.
“I feel like [certain activities are] a valuable learning experience that we can make work for everyone and that if cell phones were completely banned from classrooms we wouldn’t be able to,” Jurs said.
The Away for the Day group says that incorporating cell phones into classroom activities promotes inequity among students.
“For a school that prides itself on really trying to drive the equity issue, the fact [is] that some students don’t have them, some have really great ones, [and] some have really simple ones,” Hutton said. “[Using phones at school] sets things up so it’s clear who doesn’t have a phone or whose family can’t afford them or whose family is against it.”
Some students, however, believe that restricting phone use to fight against inequity is an impractical way of combating the issue.
“If the argument [for a cell phone ban] is that people with phones that are different prices and different qualities [create inequity], basically everything has to be that, then,” junior Lucy Rogers said. “Your shoes, your outfits — nothing can be more expensive than somebody else’s for the fear that it will make someone feel bad. That’s not how the world works.”
Although most students will not have access to their phones for the majority of the day if the policy is enacted, Hutton understands that exceptions will need to be made for certain students with special needs.
“We’ve been looking at what other schools have done to ensure that our policy is not a blanket policy for all [and] … we assume … [every kid] has been assessed for the specific needs they have around the use of technology and would still have access to use that,” Hutton said.
Although it remains unclear whether or not the policy will reach the middle school, let alone the high school, Hutton is confident that the group will find success.
“I think you’ve got to believe you can make change happen,” Hutton said. “I feel like you have to believe you can do it, otherwise, there’s no point trying.”