Crackdown on cellphones expands as 2023-24 school year approaches

Requiring students to stash their phones during class appears to be the leading choice for administrators.

A nationwide cellphone crackdown seems to be accelerating as district leaders look to eliminate distractions and shift academic recovery into a higher gear in the 2023-24 school year. Middle and high school students at Georgia’s Clarke County School District will be required to place their phones into pouches at the beginning of each class and will be able to retrieve them before moving on to the next period.

“A recurring concern from parents and staff was the use of cellphones in middle and high school classrooms, which was cited as a significant distraction from active and continued engagement in classroom instruction,” Superintendent Robbie Hooker said on the district’s website.

In Ohio, Akron Public Schools has expanded a pilot policy to all middle and high schools, where students will now be required to lock their phones in Yondr pouches for the entire school day, WKYC reported. Administrators there linked cellphone use to bullying, mental health problems and distraction, WKYC added. Administrators at Orange County Schools, which is headquartered in Orlando, Florida, intend to expand the district’s cellphone ban from during class time to recess and lunch, FOX 35 reported.

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Administrators and school boards are facing substantial pushback from families when announcing stricter cell phone policies. In Massachusetts, parents argued that Brockton Public Schools’ plan to restrict phones would put children in danger and prevent them from contacting their kids during emergencies, The Enterprise reported. Students told the school board that, when they are experiencing anxiety attacks or other mental health issues, they need their phones to contact their parents, The Enterprise added.

Brockton’s new rule would have required students to put their phones in pouches during class. But after a recent school board meeting where parents and students voiced their concerns, Superintendent Mike Thomas announced on the district’s website that he and his leadership team will redraft its new cellphone proposal.

Cell phone crackdown: Other considerations

Requiring students to stash their phones during class appears to be the leading choice for administrators who are intending to provide a life lesson while also acknowledging reality.

“The use of cellphones in schools is not going to go away, so learning to effectively manage and handle them is a valuable skill for students to learn,” English teacher Nancy Barile posted on Western Governors University’s “Hey Teach” blog. “I became more in tune with my own cellphone addiction through this process. Now, along with my students, I’m working to enjoy my life without my phone a bit more.”

Students’ use of cellphones during class could also be a sign of a lower-tech connection problem. In the Harvard Gazette, graduate school education lecturer Victor Pereira said teachers should ask themselves why students are scrolling on their phones rather than engaging in class. Teachers should also consider how cellphones can enrich lessons. “Design better learning activities, design learning activities where you consider how all of your students might want to engage and what their interests are,” Pereira told the Gazette.

Some administrators have hesitated to set districtwide rules. In Nebraska’s two largest districts—Omaha and Lincoln public schools—high school principals set the cellphone policies in their buildings while in some cases these decisions are left to teachers to manage cell phone use in their own classrooms, KETV reported. “Level one issue is just a student on their phone; it’s interrupting learning … they’re paying attention to ESPN instead of world history,” Lincoln Southwest High School principal John Matzen told KETV. “But we also found students were coordinating with other students to meet up outside of class. ‘Hey, I’m out in the hall, come meet me here.'”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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