Makenzie Augenstein can’t imagine going without her cell phone, even in school.
“I would die without it probably,” the Milton High School freshman said. “It’s how I keep in touch with everybody.”
Just about everyone at the school carries a cell phone, students said. They use them to contact friends and parents throughout the day, mostly through text messages.
But that must-have for students is a distraction for teachers.
Students send or receive text messages during class. Phones go off while the teacher is talking. Some students even take bathroom breaks to call or text their friends.
“Kids have become very skilled at texting without even looking,” said Phil Pape, Milton High School associate principal.
Districts have struggled to create appropriate, effective cell phone policies that limit the distractions while teaching teens to use technology responsibly.
A survey of Rock and Walworth county high schools found a variety of policies.
Some schools allow students to keep their phones with them as long as they turn the phones off. Others require students to keep phones in their lockers. Some allow students to use phones during lunch, while others allow no cell phone use from the time students enter the school until the last bell rings.
Milton High School instituted a policy this semester allowing students to talk and text between classes and during lunchtime.
The school created the policy as a compromise. Officials believe if they give students time to use their phones between classes, they’ll be less tempted to use them during class, Pape said.
In return, consequences for breaking the rules have become harsher.
The first time a student breaks the rules, the phone is confiscated until the end of the day. The second time, a parent or guardian must pick up the phone. The third time, the parent chooses whether the student serves a one-day suspension or gives up the phone for five school days.
Even losing the phone for a week offers students a learning opportunity, Pape said.
“It turns out it’s not as bad as they thought it was going to be,” he said.
Students said the new policy is fair and has improved behavior somewhat.
Before, “you could pretty much look in any class and see someone sneaking in (a text message),” freshman Shane Wehler said.
But illicit text messaging still goes on, senior Greg Czernecki said.
“Teachers will crack down more when they see it during class, but it seems like kids still try to get away with it,” he said.
Here’s a sample of cell phone policies at Rock and Walworth county high schools.
Students use cell phones outside the building during lunch.
After one offense, the device will be confiscated until the end of the day. On a second offense, the device will be confiscated and returned only after a parent conference. On a third offense, the device will be confiscated and returned only to the parent/guardian. Devices may be kept for longer periods and escalating consequences may be assigned.
If a teacher sees a phone in the classroom, the phone is taken to the office. Students can get it back at the end of the day, Gillespie said. The second offense equals a detention, and the third time a parent has to pick up the phone, she said.
“It’s really been a problem this year,” she said. “We’ve had more students getting consequences.”
After a first offense, the phone is taken away until the end of the day. On a second offense, the phone must be picked up by a parent or guardian. On a third offense, either the student is suspended for one day or the phone is taken away for five school days (parent’s choice).
The first time a student is caught with phone, he or she receives a 45-minute detention and the phone is confiscated for three days or until a parent picks it up, he said. Subsequent violations receive increased detention time and length of days the phone is kept.
Students are fairly cooperative even though they don’t like the policy, and it “seems to be working pretty well,” Lutzke said.
“We confiscate five to 10 per week, and we don’t have a lot of repeat offenders, so I think they learn their lesson the first time or two. As you can imagine, there’s always those that do not learn.”