High school updates personal device policy

Technology is “a gift of fire,” author Sara Baase once wrote. Like fire, it can be harnessed to accomplish amazing things. But if you aren’t careful, you can get burned.

A new school policy that will take effect at the beginning of the next school year is aimed at helping minimize the negative consequences of technology – specifically, the distractions caused by cellphones.

As a longtime science teacher at Buffalo High School, Chris Cox has seen firsthand the good and the bad that can come from technology.

“A cellphone is just a tool at the end of the day,” Cox said. “Like any tool, it can be used for beautiful things, but it can also be misused. Now that Buffalo High School is a one-to-one school where each student receives a Chromebook that they can use for school, I think that cellphones are not necessarily obsolete, but certainly unnecessary. All the good that could be done on a cellphone can be done on a school Chromebook, while all of the negative aspects – the social media addictions, the texting during class, the cyberbullying – can’t be. I just don’t see any reason for cellphones to be in the school at this time.”

During a June 10 school board meeting, BHS Principal Jodi Ibach introduced a new, stricter personal device policy that will be part of the school’s student handbook. Under the new policy, the school “will now prohibit the use of these devices during the school day, with the exception of lunch.” Any phones seen outside of the lunch hour will be confiscated by school staff. Students who break the policy will face yet-to-be-determined consequences, Ibach said.

The changes, which will be implemented at the start of the 2019-20 school year, are part of a broader, districtwide movement away from personal devices, district administrators said. A similar personal device policy was implemented at Kaycee School during the 2018-19 school year, Principal Jason Moss said. Clear Creek Middle School Principal Brandon Farris said he plans to follow the BHS lead and draft a similar personal device policy for his school for the coming school year.

Ibach said the new policy at BHS is a tool that staff can use to create the best possible learning environment for students.

“It’s really not as big a cultural shift as it seems,” Ibach said. “In the past, it has been up to individual teachers to enforce the no cellphones rule. By making it a schoolwide policy, we are simply tightening things up a bit. ... A lot of research shows that cellphones are a distraction in the classroom, whether you are using one or just in proximity of one. It is hard enough to learn without creating unnecessary distractions.”

The movement toward a cellphone-free high school began last fall. Staff members Ryan Mader, Madonna Esponda, Sandy Moon and Brent Gross visited a middle school in Billings, Montana, to learn about different approaches to advisory time, Ibach said. But as the staff watched students in the halls, they noticed something that initially caught them off guard, Moon said.

“We noticed that none of the kids had a cellphone – even in passing period or during lunch,” Moon said. “We talked to the administrators, and they told us that there was a no-phone policy at the school. Initially, things had been really bad for them. Students were upset and parents were upset that they couldn’t call their kids during the school day. But once people got used to it, everybody started to realize how beneficial it was for students.”

Moon said she expected to see various benefits from the policy, ranging from decreased cyberbullying to increased focus in the classroom. A schoolwide policy will also reduce inconsistencies and confusion, which occurred when teachers set their own policies on cellphones in the classroom, Moon said.

“I always told my students that I didn’t want to see cellphones and would take them away if I did,” Moon said. ”But not all teachers had that same rule, which led to a sort of gray area. The benefit of enforcing a schoolwide policy is there is no more gray area. Having a consistent policy makes it easier to enforce and easier for kids to understand.”

Moon acknowledged that the new policy would take some getting used to, despite the positive impacts.

“My own kids are telling me, ‘Mom, this can’t happen,’” Moon said. “It’s going to be stressful at first – for parents and students. But, if we think logically, I think people will understand that this is the best thing for kids and their education.”

Moon also noted that the shift could cause stress for parents who are used to being able to call their children throughout the school day. But students are still just a call away for parents, Moon said.

“I think, for parents, there will be the stress of ‘I can’t get ahold of my kid right away,’” Moon said. “But if parents will call the school’s office, our staff will pass on the message and even call kids down to the office to talk if they need to. We want to keep those lines of communication open between parents and students.”

Ibach agreed that the policy change could cause initial stress for students and parents, but she expressed hope the policy could ultimately be a good thing for all involved. She asked for parental support as the school implemented the changes.

“Nobody wants to be treated by a doctor who is on his cellphone,” Ibach said. “Nobody wants to be provided any service while the provider is on a cellphone. Focusing on your responsibilities and putting down the phone is part of being an adult. It’s a lesson worth learning, and high school is the perfect place to learn it.”

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