By Kelly Youngblood
At least two area schools have changed the way their students are allowed access to cell phones this year.
Blue Ridge High School and Clinton Junior High have decided to take a new approach to cell phone use beginning this fall.
Brian Easter, principal of Blue Ridge High School, sent a letter home to parents in June. In the letter, which was also published on Facebook, Easter explains the new expectation for students.
“Our staff came to a clear consensus last spring that cell phones are creating many problems for our students,” he wrote. “We have committed to enforcing the expectation that phones will be put away and turned off (or silenced) during class time.”
Easter goes on to say wireless headphones and earbuds will no longer be allowed in the classroom.
Easter cited multiple studies showing a connection between teen social media and mental health problems as a reason for the new policy.
While he acknowledged there are some medical situations that could be considered an exception, overall, he said they haven’t been able to come up with a reason why students need to be on phones during class time.
Another area school is taking a stance against cell phone use in the classroom. Clinton Junior High has decided to ban cell phones next year due to distraction issues.
“(Cell phones) are too much of a distraction,” Clinton Superintendent Curt Nettles said. “(Students) needed a distraction-free learning environment.”
Before this year, students could carry them and possibly use them at lunch or other designated times if approved by administrators. Now, students will not be allowed to carry them around at all. Phones must remain in lockers and turned off.
Katherine Tellez, director of marketing and communications at Urbana School District, said the district’s policy considers cell phones a privilege and students are discouraged from using cell phones during instructional time.
The district’s policy further states, if significant disruptions arise from cell phone use during or after school, it will be necessary for students to “turn in” their phones to administrators or student interventionists, and have steps included in a student behavior contract.
There will be further consequences in the event of cyber bullying or physical altercations at school.
Tellez said she doesn’t foresee any upcoming policy changes regarding cell phones at this time.
“As for changing the policy, it isn’t something we are considering right now,” Tellez said.
The Mahomet-Seymour parent/student handbook defines the following as “prohibited student conduct”:
Using or possessing an electronic device in any manner that disrupts the educational environment or violates the rights of others, including using the device to take photographs in locker rooms or bathrooms, cheat, or otherwise violate student conduct rules. Prohibited conduct specifically includes creating, sending, sharing, viewing, or possessing an indecent visual depiction of oneself or another person through the use of a computer, electronic communication device, or cellular phone.
Champaign Unit 4’s policy reads similarly.
Using or possessing an electronic paging device. Using a cellular telephone, video recording device, personal digital assistant (PDA), or other electronic device in any manner that disrupts the educational environment or violates the rights of others, including using the device to take photographs in locker rooms or bathrooms, cheat, or otherwise violate student conduct rules.
Prohibited conduct specifically includes, without limitation, creating, sending, sharing, viewing, receiving, or possessing an indecent visual depiction of oneself or another person through the use of a computer, electronic communication device, or cellular phone.
Unless otherwise banned under this policy or by the Building Principal, all electronic devices must be kept powered-off and out-of-sight during the regular school day unless:
(a) the supervising teacher grants permission;
(b) use of the device is provided in a student’s individualized education program (IEP); or
(c) it is needed in an emergency that threatens the safety of students, staff, or other individuals.
Stacey Moore, chief communications officer at Unit 4, outlined the current administrator procedures at the middle and high schools.
1. Electronic devices (phones, airpods, etc.) may be used in the hallways during passing times and in the cafeteria during lunch
2. At the start of class, teachers will require students to put phones and earbuds in pockets or backpacks. They will remind and demonstrate how to turn phones to “do not disturb” or equivalent to minimize ambient distractions.
3. During appropriate independent work time, teachers may announce or signal students allowing them to use earbuds and their phones to focus while working, but they must minimize distractions on their device, and they may be asked to put their phone and earbuds away if they are not able to work responsibly.