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Monfredo: Controlling Cell Phone Use in Schools

Saturday, February 23, 2019


Should cell phones be banned in the Schools or be placed in a students’ locker? This is a question educators continue to grapple with on a daily basis.  In the Worcester Public Schools, the policy is that cell phones need to be powered off during school time.

Many schools across the nation do have such a policy, but is it working? Just recently in visiting many of our secondary schools I can tell you that this is not the case for many students break the rule and have their cell phones on and walk through the corridor with their earphones.  The question… is this rule unenforceable or do educators have other ideas?

This week I sent in an agenda item for our next school committee meeting to gather information from all of our secondary schools on what they feel needs to be done and whether the policy needs to be changed.

Schools across the nation have different policies on this topic but there no one policy that works better than the other?  

Teens know that there are rules about the use of cell phone but many call it unenforceable.  It’s that sentiment that has many schools tweaking their policies, not in defeat but to better align with reality.

Let’s see what some of the researchers say and why cell phones need to be controlled in the schools… In a study from “The Away for the Day” website, 75 percent of teachers reported that the attention spans of students have decreased.  In another study students regularly interrupted by text messages had test scores that were 10.6% lower.  Many in the field feel that putting the phones away can improve a child’s emotional well-being in school and help with their focus in and out of the classroom.  Even if a device on a student’s desk is turned off, the worry is that it still becomes a distraction.

Again, research shows that teens do better with phones away during school hours.  Here are just a few questions on this topic and some answers from researchers…

Q…Some people believe that students should just control their impulses to check their phones during the school day, so why do we have to take them away?

A…We know that the control center for impulse control, the frontal lobe, is not fully developed in those early teens.   When we say “kids just need to learn how to handle phone use in places like classrooms,” we are setting many kids up for failure. We will help them more by giving them self-control challenges in which they can succeed.

Q…Kids will feel less stress if they can check on their texts and social feeds…

A… Studies have shown that students are at a higher risk of depression.  Access to smartphones, texts, and social media magnifies the issues of inclusion and acceptance, issues the teens grapple with during the day.  Face to face time with friends and classmates counteracts the isolating, depressive feelings that come up when looking at a screen.

Q… Schools believe that parents want to be able to contact their children all day…

A…The data shows this is not the case. More than 80% of parents do not want their kids to use cell phones during school. When parents help their kids plan their days without text messages, they help them to develop valuable executive-functioning skills.

Q…Schools want their students to use their phones as a computer…

A… According to research, it is better to just let them use the computer than to have a phone because the apps and notifications on the phone will constantly distract them. Also, non-sanctioned screen time on phones is much easier to sneak than doing so on a computer.  Studies show that kids’ academic performance actually goes down with the mere presence of a phone in class.  In addition, with the temptation of social media and texting in their hands, students may focus solely on their social life instead of the lesson plan.

Additionally, there are other concerns about the use of cell phones such as the increase in cyberbulling … Permitting use of digital devices in the classroom could potentially lead to more of it.


On the other hand supporters of technology in the classroom say that using laptops, tablets, and cellphones in the classroom can keep students engaged. Technology is what they know. Most students today don’t even remember a time without the internet.

But critics say it’s yet another distraction in the classroom.  The bottom line is that digital devices could hinder a student’s performance in the classroom.

Doing some research here are some educators ideas that have worked for them…

“I use a large red sign to indicate that all personal devices (such as cell phones) should be put away,” writes one teacher “I turn it over to the green side when they are permitted.”

“In my 1:1 tablet classroom, I say ‘home, sleep, center,’ when I want students to put the tablets away. Students press the home button first, then the sleep button, and then put the tablets in a basket at the center of their table.”

“I purchased an inexpensive shoe rack and numbered the slots. I ask students to store their cell phones and personal devices in one of the slots each day when they come into class.”

Other comments from teachers ….

Students need a boundary set and they need to know that we care enough about their education and the importance of what we are teaching. Looking the other way regarding phone use in the classroom may send the wrong message to students.

Another teacher called the parent On Face Time and had the student sign a contract…  I had students and parents sign a contract saying that they would not allow cell phones during instructional time. If a student smuggled a phone into the classroom, I would call the parents on FaceTime. Picture a mom on a screen telling their child they are grounded for having a cell phone in class. I only had to do this once and then the threat of FaceTime calls were enough to bring order to would be cell phone smugglers.

Needless to say, this issue is complex and what teachers have stated to me that they need the administration to support their efforts in curbing the use of cell phones in the school if that’s the school policy.

One thing is for sure that 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 consequences on the use of cell phone devices.

Any thoughts on this issue please email me … [email protected].


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