Schools Need to “Hang Up” Antiquated Cell Phone Policies

As an assistant principal in a high school and teacher/principal at the middle school level for the last 15 years: I think cell phone policies need an overhaul.

Unlimited knowledge in your pocket
Of course, we all know the benefits of cell phones in the modern age. Everything – from a brand-new computer lab, a recording studio, a library, to a personal assistant – is just a few finger swipes away for most of our students. Why is such a powerful learning resource not being used more in schools?

Fear
Let’s be honest, we are afraid that students will misuse this valuable tool and that’s where we have gone off the deep end. Yes, they could take a picture. Yes, they could text a threat to another student. Yes, they could capture video. Yes, they could play a game. Yes, they could get distracted. Yes, they could see inappropriate material. So what? A student with bad intentions can commit half of these “crimes” with a pencil and paper- we would never imagine banning those essential items from school.

Focus on behavior, not device
Don’t we already have discipline guidelines that address these behaviors-without mentioning a cell phone? If those infractions are already articulated in the student discipline code, then why do we need a separate policy? If we eliminate cell phone policies, is there any evil that cannot be addressed by the remaining policies established in the discipline code? If so, THAT should be the only thing addressed through a cell phone policy.

A place for policy
There are still some guidelines for cellphone use that students should acknowledge. There are norms for etiquette in regard to cell phones. It is commonly considered rude to use cell phones during presentations, meetings, ceremonies or performances. It is common in businesses and public spaces to restrict cell phone use in private areas, such as locker rooms and bathrooms. Organizations may set forth procedures to limit or prohibit photography and video taping. These are decent guidelines and rules that should be observed by all of us!

From a parent’s perspective
Cell phones have a place in our society and they are a convenient way for parents to monitor and communicate with students. From middle school to high school, cell phones act as a parental leash – to know where the kids are, to make ad hoc plans as their after school club or practices get out early or plans change/adjust. This is a valuable tool used by families. These devices provide a sort of long reaching supervision and protection when parents are away from their children. We need to think carefully about the immediate impact of confiscating these useful tools from families. Some families no longer use a “land line” for calls and students (and adults) rely on the “contacts” feature in their phones to call parents – it is typical that kids don’t know the phone numbers of parents from relying on this feature. The cell phone is their lifeline to their family.

Confiscation causes problems
Many families and parents have expectations that their child may check in via cell phone when arriving safe at home or to let parents know that they are home to watch their siblings. Imaging their fear (and sometimes rage) when they don’t get a call from their child afterschool. Parents get upset at the school because we have taken away a legitimate safety net for their family. Confiscation only inconveniences parents and damages the school/parent relationship.

Better ideas
Why aren’t we taking advantage of this technology? Why don’t we text our parents/students? Why don’t we let students use these vast libraries, microcomputers, sophisticated calculators, writing tools, video producers, collaboration modalities, and communication devices? Maybe the cell phone training needs to be created for administrators and teachers who need to embrace these devices as an amazing tool to improve our ability to serve students and families of our community! That is where we need to focus our efforts.

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