By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee member
“Request that the School Committee review the policy on cell phones and gather information from all secondary principals.”
This was the item that I submitted after talking to many teachers and administrators.
The item was brought to the Worcester School Committee standing committee on governance and employee issues two weeks ago.
Having spoken to several administrators and teachers I found that many are frustrated because the Worcester Public Schools has a policy that is not being enforced or is unenforceable. The present policy is for students to have their cell phones in their lockers. Students don’t follow the rule because many fear that their expensive devices will be stolen, and not all lockers work. They don’t want to “chance it.”
Many researchers feel the cell phone is an addiction,for the students need to have it on at all times.
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 addition, parents have stated to me that they want to communicate directly with their children about pick up time, scheduling and emergencies that come up without having to go through the school office.
Additionally, there are teachers who support 21st century technology because cell phones are handheld computers that could enhance learning. These proponents see the cell phone as a real world tool and feel schools need to teach students to use them for a constructive purpose such as taking notes to help with classroom research.
However, teachers on the other side of the issue have written to me and stated that cell phones are a distraction … citing cheating, texting, and even parents calling their children during school time, which takes the focus off learning. One teacher said, “I truly believe that cell phones are interfering with school progress. Never mind the social media drama they bring to school because of what they say to each other via Facebook or text. .. a good amount of school mediations in our secondary schools are social media related. We really need to work at this situation – the cell phone is interfering big time with school progress. Unfortunately, technology is hurting us on this one.”
The distraction data backs up what teachers have acknowledged in looking at the infractions this year within our secondary schools. W find close to 300 cell phone viollatons. It’s time consuming and a loss of learning for many students.
My agenda item calls for our secondary principals to come up with a clearly defined cell phone policy for the next school year and provide consequences for violations of the policy.
We need to meet with our students and explain to them what the policy is and without a doubt discuss the policy with parents and ask them to support it.
At the meeting several principals volunteered to serve on a policy committee, and during the cell phone discussion suggestions ranged from creating three separate policies for elementary, middle and secondary schools … retention of cell phones in lockers for middle school students … considering ways to use cell phones in an appropriate ways for 21st century learning … placing restrictions on video and audio use … teaching proper phone etiquette … and examining what other districts have for a policy.
Not that there is a clear cut answer on this issue, but one state compared student exam records and cell policies from 2001 to 2013, and researchers noted a significant growth in student achievement in classrooms that banned cell phones, with student test scores improving by 6.41 percent.
Our Standing Committee, with the assistance from our principals, hopes to come up with a clearly defined and enforceable policy by the end of this school year.