Cell Phone Policy Problem


 Jonathan Seal

EDLR 5307
Summer 2008
Cell Phone Policy
In recent years cell phones have become ubiquitous, especially among high school students. A large school district (LSD) has seen how these omnipresent cell phones can impact learning. In response, the LSD has drafted a Policy to curb the negative impact cell phones have on learning. The draft Policy states:
Possession or use of a radio, Walkman, beeper, paging device, cellular telephone, walkie talkie, hand held gaming device, electronic music device, MP-3 or similar electronic device is prohibited on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity without the written permission of the school principal or his/her designee.
The reasons behind this strong Policy were numerous. According to Rallis, Rossman, Cobb, Reagan, and Kuntz, schools need to “respond rather than react” (2008) to the changing schooling environment. Mooney (2007) states the constitution of Connecticut requires the state to provide education for all elementary and secondary schools. Consequently, the cell phone issue needed addressing as cell phones impact the “educational interest” of the LSD.
Without implementing the Policy, many students may become deprived by the degradation in the learning environment of the district. There are many groups of people that this Policy will positively affect including the students with cell phones, the students without cell phones, faculty, parents, and the administration. Each of these groups will be disadvantaged at times if the draft Policy is not enforced. While at first it may be a difficult Policy to enforce, causing problems for the faculty and administration, consideration of how it will or will not impact students is of primary concern.
If cell phones are left unregulated during the school day it will impact all students. Students who use cell phones to make or receive calls during instructional time are not benefiting from the instruction. Also, the interruptions to nearby students are a factor to consider. Both students using cell phones, and those forced to hear cell phone conversations, or text messaging, will be negatively impacted by the conversation or texting distraction.
In addition, disruptions from covert communication through cell phones via text messaging can destroy the learning environment for students. Cheating via text messaging is a problem that cannot be allowed, irregardless of the method. Since cell phones can be used for cheating through covert text messaging and photographing tests, it is all the more important that the draft Policy be implemented immediately.
The principals of each school within the LSD need to clearly articulate their need for their faculty to control cell phones to keep students from being disadvantaged and curtail cheating. The faculty needs to realize, through discussion and dialog, the implications of allowing students to use cell phones “on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity.” For faculty, students, teachers and parents to see the value of the Policy, principals should highlight the importance of the following points:
1.                  The learning environment is very important and should not be degraded
2.                  Cheating by use of cell phones cannot be tolerated
3.                  Parents/guardians can communicate with students through the school office
 It is worth noting the concerns principals will need to address with parents and students stated in point three above. While it has been explained how cell phones can negatively impact the learning environment, parents and students will view the issue in a different way. Cell phones are methods of communicating, and parents want instant communication with their children. Careful consideration must be made to help students and parents understand that these communication needs can be met through calls directly to the school. In addition, local schools need procedures to deal with emergencies, and these procedures need to be clearly articulated to parents and students.
Leading Dynamic Schools Framework
1. What does your intuition tell you?
My intuition tells me that cell phones have created serious challenges within the school setting. Appropriate use of cell phones needs to be taught in schools to both faculty and students. I applaud the position the Policy suggests by allowing principals limited control. I feel that as a parent I might want my child to carry a cell phone for emergency situations. However, I also realize the distraction a cell phone could become during class for teachers and students. I think that cell phones allowed on school grounds, but not used (except in emergency situations) is a great compromise.
2. What deeply held values matter here?
As I alluded to above, parents or guardians have a deeply held desire to communicate with their children. Contrast that parental need, with the need to keep schools functioning, and I believe we have contradicting values; namely those of the school verses those of the parents or guardians.
I also believe, especially at the secondary school level, that students are beginning to mature and want to be treated as adults. As such, the complete banning of cell phones goes against this deeply held view of independent and maturing students. Students, I believe, think they are entitled to have, and use, cell phones. The problem I see is that we, as teachers and administrators, are not teaching appropriate cell phone use. In my opinion, many teachers have the same problem, as evidenced by the constant need for reminders to “turn off your cell phone” during meetings, movies, and other events. In fact, some restaurants are even baning cell phone conversations, thus illustrating that the cell phone problem is not limited to the school setting.
3. What professional knowledge and wisdom are relevant? What more do you need to learn?
For the cell phone Policy to be effectively implemented, I think the faculty and staff will need education on how cell phones should be used. My son informed me the other day that he knows a high school student who can send a complete text message without looking at his phone, while the phone is “away” in his pocket. Without this type of knowledge, this Policy could be one of the “on the books” Policies, that are unfortunately not enforced. Teachers need to be taught how cell phones are used. In addition, teachers need technical knowledge for controlling cell phones. For example, they should know methods for turning off various models of cell phones or what different beeps and sounds indicate when made by cell phones. Nothing is worse than confiscating a cell phone to have it ring or beep from the teacher's desk; continuing the disruptive behavior for which the cell phone was confiscated in the first place.
In addition, it would be wise to understand the capabilities of cell phones as well. Camera phones are increasingly common and bring the additional worries of inappropriate pictures. Pictures cannot only damage the learning environment through photographic cheating, but humiliate, and degrade other students if taken in locker rooms or gym class. Camera phones could become agents of bullying.
4. Where does your moral reasoning take you? What conflicts do you foresee?
My moral reasoning tells me the cell phone problem is here and action is needed. I see the Policy as a good first draft, with room for improvement. The clause that allows principals discretion for individual cases is very critical for the success of the Policy.
I see potential conflicts if there is not consistency in enforcement. The policing of this Policy is laid upon the teachers, but if they do not buy into the Policy, major conflicts could arise. For example, if one teacher confiscates phones, and another only warns, then students will quickly learn where they can and cannot use cell phones.
In conclusion, I see the value of cell phones, but have a hard time understanding their place in schools. As cell phones become more and more powerful, it is more important that education start using them appropriately. Granted this must be done with caution, however an outright ban is not appropriate. If we as educators ban all things that are difficult then the ban will contribute to making make us ineffective at preparing students to enter a society that is embracing technology, especially cell phones at an astonishing rate. Education needs to find appropriate and meaningful ways to include cell phones.
Actual Policy with discipline consequences (spelling and grammar left untouched)
Misuse of Electronic Devices
Possession or use of a radio, walkman, beeper, paging device, cellular telephone, walkie talkie, hand
held gaming device, electronic music device, MP-3 or similar electronic device on school grounds or
at a school-sponsored activity without the written permission of the school principal or his/her
designee, or inappropriate use of such electronic devices.
1st offence: item is confiscated for 1 day, parent pick up required
2nd offense: item is confiscated for 1 month, parent pick up required
3rd offense: item is confiscated until the end of the year, parent pick up