Last year, a Brooke Point High School teacher counted how many smartphone notifications a class of 24 students received in a 30 minute period.
The total was 183 notifications—38 text messages, 137 social media notifications and eight emails.
“That’s a major disruption to a student’s thought process,” Brooke Point Principal Tim Roberts said.
In response to multiple concerns brought forward by teachers about the distraction posed by smartphones in the classroom, Roberts decided this year to more clearly enforce the school’s phone policy.
Students are no longer permitted to keep their phones with them during class. Instead, they are given the choice of either turning their phones off and storing them in their backpacks at the front of the class, or putting them in a designated cellphone caddy.
Roberts said the policy isn’t new. Rather, it clarifies and makes more consistent the existing cellphone policy approved by the School Board as recently as May 2019.
That policy, found in the Student Code of Conduct, states that devices “shall not” be used during the school day and that, “Students must power off such devices and stow them properly out of sight prior to entering the classroom.”
Roberts said the issue was that “we had inconsistent interpretation of what ‘stowed away properly’ meant.”
He said some teachers were more strict and would find a student to be in violation of the policy if they could see a device sticking out of the student’s pocket.
“We had well over 200 suspensions for the cellphone policy in one year,” Roberts said.
He said all the teachers were in support of “more clearly defining” the policy regarding smartphones.
“Every teacher agreed,” he said.
If a Brooke Point teacher has planned a lesson that requires technology, Roberts said school-issued Chromebooks will be used instead of the students’ personal devices.
“It’s about equity and access,” he said, noting that some students are able to afford the latest devices but others may be using older, broken devices or may not own a smartphone at all.
Stafford High School also made the decision this year to more narrowly interpret the school division’s cellphone policy.
As at Brooke Point, students have the option of either turning off their phones and stowing them in their backpacks or storing them in caddies provided by the teacher, Stafford High principal Joe Lewis said.
Lewis said students are also no longer allowed to use cellphones in the hallways when classes are in session.
“Students can use their phones before school, after school, during lunchtime and between classes, but there is more restriction in the classroom,” Lewis said.
“As adults, we know how tempting it is to check your phone when you get a notification,” Lewis continued. “The temptation is that much greater for kids. We don’t want [phones] to be a distraction.”
As at Brooke Point, teachers at Stafford High School first expressed an interest in redefining the school’s cellphone policy, and Lewis said that parents have also been supportive.
Roberts said some parents of Brooke Point students were worried about being able to reach their children during school hours under the new policy.
When that happened, Roberts said he made personal phone calls to the parents to talk them through the policy.
When students first got wind of the policy, Roberts said a petition circulated on Change.org accusing Brooke Point administrators of infringing on students’ human rights.
The petition received 863 signatures, but Roberts said that after he explained the policy to the petition’s creator, the student accepted his position.
“The kids are actually really enjoying it,” he said. “I’ve heard them say they can’t believe how much they’re actually talking in class.”
“And we’ve already noticed positive results,” he continued. “The first round of quizzes in math came back with higher scores.”
Lewis said Stafford High School students are also acclimating to the policy.
“A change is always painful, but I think they’re adapting,” he said. “Teachers are already reporting that they like the results.”