Cell phone policy varies between teachers

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By: Meher Ahmad <mahmad@hilite.org>

Junior Nick Cooper was sitting in SRT texting his fellow class officers when his teacher approached him. “She came over to me and indicated that she wanted my phone,” Cooper said. “She told me I could pick it up in the deans’ office.”

This scenario is not uncommon in classrooms here. Cooper is among hundreds of students who have had their phone confiscated for texting. With the prevalence of cell phones increasing dramatically in the past few years, schools are starting to rethink their cell phone policies. According to Cellnumbers.com, over 50 percent of American teenagers own a personal cell phone.

The student handbook states “Cell phones are not to be used during instructional time of the school day.” This policy, however, fails to mention what specifically is an instructional time.

According to Assistant Principal John Newton, instructional time is from 7:50 a.m. to 3:05 p.m.. “Students shouldn’t be using them. The policy used to be that they couldn’t have them, but just because you have [a cell phone] doesn’t mean you’re bad,” Newton said.

Cooper argues that his usage of cell phone during SRT was not violating any instructional time. “In no way was I hurting anyone, I was not interfering with anyone and I was not interfering with any instructional time,” Cooper said.

Teacher’s definitions of instructional time vary from classroom to classroom. Science teacher Jeffery Young agreed with the high school policy, but said that the method by which teacher’s discipline students can sometimes cause harm. “In my experience, kids approached in a non-threatening manner appear to take better instruction. Sometimes if a teacher appears out of the blue it causes unnecessary disagreement between the teacher and the student,” Young said.

At the same time, Young agrees that the policy is necessary. “Students know the rules, so if you actually get called out for it, you need to deal with the consequences,” Young said. “If there was no rule it would be ridiculous, so I definitely agree with the policy.”

Once a student has been found using a cell phone, teachers react in a number of ways. “We ask staff members, if you see a phone you can do one of two things. You can ask them to put it away or you can confiscate it,” Newton said.

Cooper said he was adamantly against any form of confiscation. “How can the school legally take a cell phone?” Cooper said. “It must be through due process of law. They cannot take my personal property.”

In addition to holding cell phones in the front office once they have been confiscated, the unwritten rule here is that students must have their parents pick up their phones after school. To many students, the logic behind this policy is not apparent. “For students whose parents work, it may take weeks to get a phone back. The school has no right to uphold our personal property,” Cooper said.

Newton said that the parent involvement has a purpose. “It used to be that students could pick up their phones after school, but they would just pull them back out again. When your parents have to come from work, drive to school and pick up your phone, they’re going to have a conversation with you,” Newton said.

When it comes to teacher’s personal policies, however, students have found that they greatly vary. “I’ve found that from room to room, the policy teachers institute changes. It creates confusion because every time we switch rooms we have to remember a separate set of rules,” Cooper said.

“When it comes to teacher policies, Newton agrees that each teacher can apply their own personal policy. “If a teacher says its OK [to use a cell phone], then it’s OK,” Newton said.

“The lack of continuity between the rules creates a situation in which students can’t be held accountable for not following the cell phone policy. Why are some teachers OK with it and others not?” Cooper said. Cooper’s sentiment can be seen in several students here who have teachers with different standards in rules.

Newton, however, said that there has to be some sense of control over the cell phone situation. “While we know there is an increasing population with cell phones, we want control over the phones. We can entertain ideas, but we need to try and keep control,” Newton said. “At the end of the day, school is school, and cell phones serve as a distraction.”

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