BAR HARBOR — Members of the Mount Desert Island High School board plan to have a serious discussion after the first of the year about whether students’ use of cell phones at school is a problem and, if so, what can and should be done about it.
The issue was raised at the board’s Dec. 6 meeting by Sarah Knox, one of two non-voting student members of the board.
“Many people are concerned about the use of phones in class, and many people are wondering whether or not phones should be banned,” she said in a prepared statement.
She said that, after careful thought, “It is clear to me that banning phones is not a proper solution to this ‘problem.”
Knox said that in her experience, class discussion is “strong and thorough.”
“Students make strong connections to the material they’re learning, and they interact with each other on an intellectual level, which indicates that kids are able to interact in a way that many adults are afraid that they can’t,” she said.
Instead of banning cell phones in school, she said students should be taught self-regulation and that if parents don’t want their children to have phones in class they shouldn’t allow them to take phones to school.
Knox added that teachers should have the freedom to set the rules for cell phone use in their classrooms.
Principal Matt Haney agreed, saying, “I think it’s important that the teachers set the limits in their classrooms.”
In response to a board member’s question, Haney said the high school doesn’t have a “policy” on the use of cell phones but, rather, a “procedure.”
“Students are allowed to have their phones during common times, like lunch and breaks,” he said. “In the classrooms, teachers can have their own ways of going about it, but phones are not supposed to be out and in use during class time. I think that’s the case in most classes, and in some it’s not.”
A few school board members expressed concern about students’ attachment to their cell phones, and not just during class.
“I think there should be no phones at all in the school during the school day,” Lilea Simis said. “To me, it’s not just about being in the classroom. It’s about the content of what’s being bombarded at you or what you’re choosing to look at on your phone all day long.”
Haney acknowledged that when students are by themselves, they are often on their phones.
“But when they’re together with their friends, they’re talking to one another,” he said. “I wish people could see the way students are interacting face to face almost all the time when they’re at school.”
Knox told the board that even when students are on their phones, they are likely to be texting each other rather than being on social media.
“I think it’s less scary than it probably looks,” she said. “This is a piece of technology that is fully integrated with our lives, and I think the best thing to do is to embrace it and learn how to use it in the best way, because it’s here to stay.”
Haney agreed that whatever problem there might be with cell phone use at school, “The answer is not a ban. The answer is, as Sarah said, to teach self-regulation and the appropriate way to use the tool.”
Board member Marie Yarborough said the issue deserves serious consideration.
“I think teachers, administrators and parents need to come in and have this discussion,” she said. That discussion, she said, should be informed by research into the effects of teens’ use of cell phones and social media.
“I don’t think we should just do a cursory glance or cursory discussion about this,” she said.
Discussion of students’ use of cell phones at school is expected to be on the agenda for the school board’s Jan. 13 meeting.