A dozen years after the iPhone was introduced, more local schools are beginning to crack down on cellphones in the classroom.
Craig High School Principal Alison Bjoin said the issue has resurfaced because of teacher concerns.
“Over the last several years, it has become the thing that we as administrators most frequently heard teachers say, ‘This is a problem,’” she said.
Craig’s policy hasn’t changed, but the Janesville School District plans to enforce the rules more strictly, Bjoin said. Students are required to leave the devices in their lockers or place them in a pouch when they walk into the classroom.
If a student is caught with a cellphone during class, it will be taken away until the end of the day. A second offense will require parents to retrieve the device from the school office.
Bjoin said the “bell to bell” rule was created shortly after she joined the district in 2005. She hopes better enforcement improves compliance.
“The rule hasn’t really changed, but our need to enforce it has (changed) due to teacher feedback. Teachers are very happy that we’re providing clarity about the expectations and providing manageable tools to enforce the rules.”
Parker High School Principal Chris Laue has worked in education for nearly 30 years. Technology has advanced significantly since he began his career.
“It definitely has changed,” he said. “In the last 10 to 15 years, cellphones really started to make a presence as the technology has shifted with what everybody does.”
Parker students can use cellphones in class but only with approval from teachers. As examples, Laue mentioned listening to music during work time and using a phone’s calculator during math class.
Laue said the school works to show students that cellphones can be valuable tools when used appropriately.
“It would be very short-sighted to think that you can ban them, and there are some very good educational uses for cellphones,” he said.
“I think our responsibility as a school is teaching them when it is the right time and when it is not the right time.”
Students who use their cellphones inappropriately can have the devices confiscated for the day or for extended periods of time, Laue said.
He hopes to teach students a balanced approach to cellphone use that they can take to college and into the workforce.
“We’re trying to be very strategic in what we do,” he said. “We acknowledge the technology isn’t going away and there are educational uses for it, but we want to educate them. They need to be in educational, professional and social settings and know the appropriate way to use the tool.”
At Edgerton High School, a new policy this fall has district administrators hopeful. The policy is similar to Craig’s: Students can either leave phones in their lockers or place them in classroom pouches.
“This has been ongoing since students have carried smartphones around,” Superintendent Dennis Pauli said. “We just felt it was time.”
Edgerton High School Principal Mark Coombs said policing phone use was difficult for teachers, and it will help if students don’t have their phones in their pockets.
“In the past, it was out of sight, out of mind, but it has become an ever-increasing distraction. We’re not trying to be punitive; we’re just trying to get back that instructional time,” Coombs said.
While he anticipates growing pains, Coombs hopes students will realize they might not need their phones as much as they thought.
The Evansville School District also has decided to take cellphones out of classrooms.
“There was some grumbling at first, but it’s part of what we do now,” Superintendent Jerry Roth said. “As you change culture and expectations, it doesn’t take long for kids to be accepting of that.”
Roth said students didn’t complain much, and parents realized it makes sense to reduce distractions in class.
As smartphones become more advanced, they cause more distractions, Roth said. He doesn’t think students are distracting themselves from school on purpose, but technology is a larger part of today’s culture.
“Kids are connected 24/7/365. That’s just the way they operate now,” he said.
“I never look at technology or communication as a problem. I look at it as there is a time and place for it, and when you’re in an instructional environment … then you try to eliminate it as a distraction.”
Just how distracting?
A June 2019 Pew Research Center report says 96% of adults in the United States own cellphones, and smartphones account for 81% of phones used by adults.
A separate study by The Journal of Communication Education indicates students who are not using cellphones wrote down 62% more information, took more detailed notes and remembered more detailed information from lectures.
The study also shows students who are not using cellphones scored more than a full letter grade higher on a multiple choice test than students actively using their phones.
Courtney Schlegel, a licensed clinical social worker for Mercyhealth, works with area youth and families. She said cellphones have become a serious talking point.
“I think in the school setting it’s important for them to separate from phones because it allows them to focus on peer interactions and building skills for the future,” Schlegel said.
She often reads literature that points out student distractions related to cellphones.
She said one study suggested that it can take up to 15 minutes for someone to fully refocus on a task after an interruption such as a phone notification.
“Every time you’re distracted, that’s all kinds of time to regroup and get back to work,” she said. “For every single social media notification or text, are they ever fully getting back on track?”
Schlegel also pointed to studies that have linked screen time and too much social media interaction to anxiety and depression.
While she said social media and cellphone use alone doesn’t cause these issues, she hopes students realize they should have limits.
“Finding balance is the best outcome,” she said. “Putting your phone down in school, when you’re out with friends or out to eat with family—those things matter.”