Cellphones in schools? Some Clark, Champaign students required to put them away

School policies vary widely on cellphones in classrooms, cafeterias and hallways.

Credit: Keith Srakocic

Credit: Keith Srakocic

Some school districts in Clark and Champaign counties require students to put their cellphones in lockers during the day, while others let students use them at certain times.

Many teachers and administrators believe cell phones in class are a distraction to students, but some schools use them at times to engage students during classroom instruction, and one local school allows them most of the time.

“It’s certainly a difficult challenge for any educator and has been for a long time,” said Josh Jennings, founding director and superintendent of Global Impact STEM Academy (GISA). “Schools started by banning cellphones all together and then allowing them in limited use. Now, it seems schools are once again discussing not permitting them at all.”

Nearby, Dayton and Fairborn will require students to place the phones in locked pouches, and at the end of the school day, kids can release their phones.

GISA’s Jennings said cell phones can provide opportunity for education and can be a tool for a variety of projects.

“Cellphones are, and will keep, becoming more and more of a constant in everyone’s lives. A part of preparing students for the future involves the appropriate use of such a ubiquitous tool,” he said.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

At Clark-Shawnee and Graham Local Schools, elementary and middle school students must have their phones in their lockers, bookbags or put away, and phones can be used at the high school depending on the teacher.

“Now that the district is 1-1 (a device for each student), there is a much less need for students to use their own devices in the classroom,” said Graham Superintendent Chad Lensman. “The idea is that the only time that it is being used during the school day is for educational needs if it aligns with the teacher’s planning at the high school.”

Socially acceptable use

GISA has allowed phones since it opened in 2013, but it can be a challenge from time to time, Jennings said.

“The rationale was that these are going to be distractions that students will have to deal with forever. Therefore, we wanted to be mindful of making the socially acceptable use of these devices part of the instruction and teaching students how to deal with these distractions before they become crippling once they leave us and go to college or work,” he said.

GISA tries to educate students on what the socially acceptable uses of cellphones are to help them deal with phones as distractions. These include not taking a call in a movie theater, not checking social media when having a conversation with another person and not being on the phone when a instructor is trying to communicate to the class. They also attempt to replicate a positive work environment by enforcing and educating professional courtesy.

“If a student is unable to deal with the potential distraction of a cellphone now, and we do not do all we can to help them deal with those potential distractions, when they move on to the workplace or college, those distractions could become crippling,” he said.

Students can become distracted when checking text messages or social media updates, but one of the biggest challenges Jennings said is students texting with their parents because it’s “too easy and convenient to send a quick message to ask about practice after school or making sure they have a ride.”

Another challenge with cellphones, Jennings said, is many times parents know about issues students are having before administrators and teachers do.

“Often a parent will call the school and say their child might be having a problem with another student, and we haven’t heard anything about nor had a chance to address it,” he said.

Although GISA allows phones most of the time, Jennings said staff and administrators have talked more about their use in middle school and the distractions they present to those students.

“It is because of this that our team is revisiting our strategies in dealing with them,” he said. “My only rationale in why it’s more of an issue is simply maturity and the ability to cope with distraction, as well as for many students it’s the first time they’ve been allowed to have consistent access to their devices.”

The intended purpose

In Graham High School, phones cannot be used during class unless a teacher allows them and it’s related to the lesson. However, Lensman said most of the issues that arise from cellphone use involve students not using them for the intended purpose. Phones allow students to be off the district’s network, which allows students to use social media sites otherwise blocked.

Lensman said students review expectations with staff at the beginning and during the school year, and they know what will happen if they use their phones.

“Staff are consistent and hold the students to high expectations when addressing issues with with cellphones,” he said.

In the elementary school, phones can be kept in bookbags, while they must be kept in lockers in the middle school. If a student needs to contact their parent, they must use a classroom or office phone. If they use their own cellphone, it will be taken and can be picked up at the end of the day.

“The district understands the need for parents to have access to their children before or after school, (but) students must show they are responsible for their devices during the school day,” Lensman said.

As for other consequences, a first offense is a warning, second is their parent is called, and third is a detention or the parent picks up the phone.

Pouches with purpose

At Shawnee High School, cellphones must be off and away, but each teacher has their own policy posted on the door because some teachers allow use of them for specific purposes.

“Each grade band has a cellphone policy in order to minimize the distraction that cellphones can cause in the school environment,” said Superintendent Brian Kuhn. “High school students may use their cellphones in the cafeteria during lunchtime... (but) cellphones are not permitted to be used in the hallways or restrooms.”

Triad Local Schools allows middle school students to bring their cellphones, but they need to be kept in their lockers. At the high schools, students are allowed to carry their cellphones, but cannot use them unless being used in class for a certain reason.

Fairborn is the latest school district in the region to require middle and high schoolers to put their phones in Yondr pouches for this upcoming year, which lock cellphones during the school day.

The cost for Fairborn schools for the pouches was roughly $37,000. The district said they hope to limit the negative effects of phone use during class time and reduce negative student interactions by limiting phone use during the school day.

Dayton Public Schools has used the pouches for several years at the middle school level and began using Yondr at the high school level this past school year.

Ohio allows any local board of education to decide if they want to allow students to have their cellphones in class, and the law was signed in 2019. California also passed a similar law in 2019.

Back to School: Students in a three local school districts will head back to classes this week for the 2023-24 school year.

Today: Tecumseh Local Schools.

Thursday: Catholic Central School, Triad Local Schools.

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