Although many Wauseon students seem to have cell phones glued to their hands, they’ll have an adjustment to make this academic year as the school district places stricter cell phone policies into effect.
Wauseon High School students must now surrender their cell phones at the start of each class period. The phones are placed in caddies in the classroom and retrieved at the end of the session. The students are permitted to use their phones between classes and at lunchtime.
Principal Keith Leatherman said some teachers were already collecting student cell phones prior to class, “but we decided to go across the board with it.” He said students were informed of the new policy at the start of the new school year.
“They had to admit that they are a distraction if they have them in their pocket,” Leatherman said. “If they’re in pockets or book bags, and kids can feel them vibrating and going off, it’s a distraction. It’s going to be a distraction even if you don’t have it in your hands.”
With the new policy, which is specifically covered in the student handbook, that distraction is eliminated, allowing students to remain focused on their lessons. Leatherman said the Chromebooks distributed to students are the only electronic resource they need for their studies.
There were no violations of the phone policy the first week of school. Leatherman said students are being compliant because they realize the policy still affords them some freedom to use their phones. Violating the policy could lose them that freedom or result in detention.
“We’re going to continue to monitor it. I’m not saying it’s going to be smooth sailing but we’re gong to be consistent with it. We really think this is going to be a win-win for everybody,” he said.
The policy does not apply to teachers, but they are encouraged to follow it. An exception is their access of safety apps on their phones. “We need to be models for the students,” Leatherman said.
The policy has elicited no complaints from parents, and Leatherman said the school administration encourages students to put down their phones during slack times and communicate with one another.
“My message on the first day of school was to experience something new this year. Get to know some different people. We’re always encouraging them to communicate,” he said.
But he understands that cell phones are their means of keeping in touch.
“That’s just a whole societal thing,” he said. “You see that not just at school. That’s not necessarily a positive product of kids carrying them around.”
Wauseon Middle School is simply trying to adhere to the cell phone policy adapted a few years ago, Principal Joe Friess said. There’s no rule against bringing a cell phone to school but there is one against using it during school hours.
“It’s the same policy we’ve always had. We’re just trying to reinforce it,” Friess said.
Students can use their phones up until the school day begins. After that, they’ll be asked to stow them away until after the final bell. If they’re caught using them during school hours they’ll be reminded to put them away in their book bag or locker.
“It’s not a disciplinary situation but we are trying to cut down on the distraction,” Friess said. “It’s just a reminder. It’s not a ‘gotcha’ kind of thing for us. It’s a learning environment kind of thing.”
In the first week of school, which began Aug. 19, no students were disciplined for phone use. However, any student who repeatedly or willfully violates the policy will be subject to detention.
“We understand there is a use for them but with their Chromebooks students have the device they need for their school work,” Friess said. “If we don’t hear them or see (phones), we’re not going to worry about them. It’s your property.”
There are exceptions to the policy. With permission, students can use their cell phones to speak with parents. “There is an understanding that this is part of culture now, and that they need them to contact parents to pick them up,” Friess said.
“The primary point is, that in order for us to do our job as educators we need to keep (students) focused on the teachers and each other,” he added. ”The fuzzier the boundaries, the more the confusion.”
When a cell phone activates in class – which has happened regularly enough – it disrupts the learning process, Friess said.
He said the phone rules don’t apply to teachers who, as adults, demonstrate restraint in using them. They also need them at times to send or receive messages from parents, and may need to use safety apps.
“Hopefully, there’s a little bit of a difference between the responsibility. If the kids are working on an assignment, teachers don’t have their cell phones out,” Friess said.
He said policy aside, and without trying to be judgmental, he also wants to encourage the socialization among students that cell phones seem to discourage.
“It’s not unusual for kids to be sitting at a cafeteria table, and they’re all looking at their phones instead of talking to one another,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to smile at somebody and say, ‘Have a nice day’ when you’re looking at your phone. We’re just trying to reinforce that interpersonal communication.”
The schools’ cell phone policies aren’t necessarily new, but they’re a strong reminder to students that the phones have no place in education, Superintendent Troy Armstrong said.
“There’s no need for them to have their cell phones during instructional time,” he said.
The problem of cell phone use has never become dire, but the policy for student use wasn’t consistent throughout the district, Armstrong said.
“Cell phones can be distracting to students, so we just took a stronger stance on the policy,” he said.
Armstrong said parents have so far remained silent about the policies.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.