Controlling Cell Phone Use in School

There are pros and cons to allowing cell phones to be brought to, and used at, K-12 school campuses. Issues of safety, respect, order and security are all part of the discussion. As technology has evolved since the days of the forbidden pager, most campuses now have cell phone policies, whether set at the district or school board level, at individual schools, or even by classroom teachers. Making matters even more complicated, sometimes parents aren’t on board with the school cell phone policy, which leads to enforcement issues. There are many options for controlling cell phone use in school, or an all-out cell phone ban, and offers up ideas, not recommendations. Here are some to consider:

For School Leaders

Establish a clear cell phone policy, include it in the student/parent handbook and consider having parents and students sign to acknowledge they understand and agree to the rules.

Consider requiring phones to be set to silent (vibrate mode) or shut off during school hours.

Consider requiring phones to be kept in lockers, or checked at the office.

If students tend to use “going to the restroom” or “getting something from their locker” as an excuse to text, consider having students turn over their phone before making such a trip.

Some schools allow phone use during passing periods and lunch, which proponents of such a policy argue makes students less likely to text during class time, because they know they will soon have a chance to text.

School or teachers with more liberal cell phone policies have allowed: texting but not during testing time, texting but no voice calls, and other limitations.

At some schools, teachers or administrators confiscate cell phones when students are caught using them against policy. Other schools don’t want to take on the potential liability or hassle of handling the phones.

If phones are confiscated, consider a “fine” of $10 to $25 for retrieving it. Some schools mandate that the parent physically come to the school to pick up the phone. Additionally, an escalating fine scale could be established in which the fines are higher for each subsequent offense, and/or the phone is confiscated for a longer time period.

Non-monetary punishment possibilities include: detention, suspension, expulsion (reserved for cases in which the phone was used to cheat on a test), restriction from end-of-year activities, an automatic F or zero on all coursework on the day or use, or an automatic zero on their “participation” grade.

Other ideas for curbing surreptitious cell phone use: Require see-through backpacks; turn students’ desks backward so they cannot reach inside to text; turn out the lights to check for phones glowing though pockets.

Some schools make students remove sweatshirts and “hoodies” while in class, since cell phones can be carried within them and students can text by reaching into a pocket.

If cell phones or iPod-style music players are allowed during independent work, require students to keep them in sight and/or require students to get teacher permission before touching the device.

Some teachers use an “embarrassment” tactic. If someone calls or texts during class time, the teacher will answer the phone or text back.

If cell phone use is forbidden or restricted, strongly consider allowing access to an office or class phone or pay phone. Make sure office staff passes along messages sent to children from parents and vice-versa or the school may face a backlash from frustrated parents.

Some school administrators or teachers have blocked or “jammed” cell phone signals in campus buildings with a device called a mobile phone jammer. (A school in Spokane, Wash. is the most prominent recent example.) However, such jammers are illegal in the United States and Canada, and schools that use them may run into trouble with, in the U.S. the FCC. High-tech metallic paint can also block cell phone signals, but, again, there are legal and safety issues with its use. (For example, school cell phone jammers also block the ability to call 911.)

Be aware that there are other issues with cell phones in class besides distraction. They can be used to cheat on tests in several ways, including: texting answers, using a cell phone camera to take a picture of a test to share with someone in a later class, or loading a cell phone that plays MP3s with voice files containing test answers or study notes. Consider collecting all cell phones before a test and returning them afterward.

Bullying or harassment via unwanted, inappropriate text messaging is unfortunately not uncommon, so be aware of this use of cell phones. Another problem, which has resulted in criminal prosecution in several cases, is “sexting,” the distribution of nude or semi-nude digital photos via cell phone.

If a cell phone policy is in place, school and district administrators should “back up” teachers who enforce it.

Another possible deterrent or punishment some administrators use is: If a cell phone is confiscated due to rules violation, make it known that when the parent comes to pick it up, all photos and messages will be reviewed with the parent present.

Be aware that in some cases, children’s health issues may be what are driving parents’ interests in allowing them to carry cell phones. A school cell phone policy could include a medical exemption.

For Parents

If your child’s school doesn’t allow texting, don’t condone rules-breaking by texting your child back. However, if a phone is off, it’s possible to send a text or voice message for the child to receive later, when allowed, which comes in handy when after-school plans change.

Consider checking your child’s phone for the times messages were sent to see if he or she texted during school hours.

You could make it clear to your child that you may read or listen to his or her messages at any time.

Some phones have parental controls you can set that render the phone incapable from getting or sending messages during certain hours.

Think about having a spare “family phone” that you send to school with your child only on days when you expect a need to be in immediate communication (i.e. child care changes).

If you have a specific reason you feel your child should be allowed cell phone access that is contrary to school policy (i.e.: medical problems, long bus ride home, blended family), approach school leaders about it. For example, a child with Type 1 Diabetes should have the right to have a smartphone on during the school day if needed due to Continuous Glucose Meter (CGM) software as well as for communication purposes. This can be spelled out in an IEP, 504 plan, or equivalent.

Some parents add punishments onto whatever the school doles out when a cell phone policy is violated. For example, your child could lose phone privileges for a month, have to pay for your time and gas needed to deal with the violation, or be forced to pay for his or her phone from that point forward.

One Response to “Controlling Cell Phone Use in School”

  1. boogernut says:

    this is really stupid cellphones should be allowed in school for emergencies!!!

Leave a Reply