Committee Corner: Cell Phone Policy in Our Schools Needs to be Discussed

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee Member

Schools across the nation, including in the city of Worcester, continue to grapple with cell-phone policies and more importantly how to enforce its policies. Many teachers and administrators have told me that cell phones are a distraction to instruction in the classroom.

One teacher went on to say that cell phones in the classroom lead to a short attention span and those students are more concerned about socializing than getting an education. He also stated that schools have a policy to facilitate a quality education in a respectful and safe environment but cell phones in the classroom have become a disruption and have led to less classroom instruction due to the management aspect of policing cell phones.

After hearing from several educators and talking to more I filed an agenda item at the School Committee level to discuss our current policy. The item will go to the standing committee and I hope to hear from teachers, school administrators and most importantly the superintendent’s student advisory committee members. Basically, the policy of the Worcester Public Schools calls for cell phones to be stored in the students’ lockers during school time. It’s isn’t happening and as a system we either enforce the policy or make the necessary changes.

According to research on this topic here are some of the advantages and disadvantages on cell phone use in the schools:

School safety—Many parents defend cell phones at school for safety purposes. They argue that in the case of an emergency, they want immediate access to their children. In the case of a widespread emergency, students could contact their parents directly and keep school phone lines open for other communications.
Parent communication—Parents also want to be able to communicate directly to their children about schedules—such as pick-up times or after school scheduling changes—without going through the school office.

Scholarship—Some teachers argue that new cell phone technology makes it a valuable learning tool. Many cell phones are, in reality, handheld computers that could enhance, or even replace, classroom technology that is very expensive for schools on a tight budget to provide. Rather than viewing it as a detriment or distraction, these proponents see the cell phone as a real world tool that students should learn to embrace and use constructively—for everything from note taking to classroom research.

On the other hand there are those that feel it’s a problem that needs correcting…

Distraction—Those who oppose cell phones in the classroom cite the reality that cell phones distract students from their studies. Today’s cell phones not only offer the ubiquitous texting capability that students love, but also access to internet and video games that is a problem when students have the phones available in the classroom.

Dishonesty—The same technology that makes cell phones distracting also makes cheating much easier for students. They can take pictures of tests, text questions and answers, or even access notes and textbooks through their cell phones. Cell phones are so small these days, and students are so adept at using them surreptitiously that detecting their use is increasingly difficult.

Misuse and misconduct—The issues of cyber-bullying, sexting, and other forms of serious misconduct are increasingly common and easier to conceal with cell phone technology. Cell phones in the hands of problem students just make the problems harder to discern and harder to handle. Some argue that the teen angst common in that age group is exacerbated with cell phone use: everything from gossip to sexuality becomes a bigger issue when cell phones are involved.

So what is the solution? If you have a policy be sure that it is enforced. Some schools ban cell phone use altogether from the classroom. From the moment students enter the building until they leave, cell phones are out of sight and on silence. Some schools do not allow cell phones on school property at all such as the City of New York. Some require teachers to collect cell phones when students enter the classroom and return them when they leave.

Teachers and administrators clearly NEED TO define these policies at the beginning of the school year and provide specific consequences for violation of the published policies. Clearly parents must also know these policies and support administrative punishments that should be substantial enough to make a difference.

In addition there are schools that embrace cell phone technology and encourage its professional use. Teachers may even work the use of cell phones into their lesson plans. However, you still need guidelines for they are necessary to control acceptable use. It could be to keep the phone on silence, put it on the desk in view of the teacher, and use only with permission.

Hopefully, in Worcester, a good discussion can take place on this issue and then we need EVERYONE to adhere to the policy agreed upon and it must be enforced in the all schools. If any of the readers has a solution to this problem please e-mail at monfredoj@g,


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