South-Western revises its cellphone policy for students

By Dedra Cordle

Staff Writer

South-Western City School officials have placed new restrictions on the use of cellphones for the 2024-25 calendar year.

The board of education unanimously approved revisions to the personal communication device policy at its meeting in June. The policy now states that students must keep all web-based devices, cellphones in particular, silent and out of sight when in the classroom.

“The inherent goal with this renewed emphasis on personal communication device limitations is to increase student attentiveness and time on task in the classroom while also reducing the amount of distractions that inhibit learning,” said district spokesperson Evan Debo.

The building staff will determine the storage location of the personal communication devices.

“The main objective of the policy is to restrict the use of such devices in the classroom and increase engagement in the learning process,” said Debo. “In pursuit of these goals, students may be presented with several different options to choose from after the device has been silenced. In one classroom, that may look like a cellphone/calculator caddy at the front of the room that doubles as an attendance tracker; whereas in another classroom we may see an emphasis on keeping the devices tucked away in a backpack or a locker. Provided that these devices are silenced and out of sight, there are an array of options available to achieve these outcomes to keep students’ attention on the learning at hand.”

While lockers were mentioned in his comment, the district says it will likely allow students to keep personal communication devices nearby in case of emergency situations.

“The emergency and special circumstance provisions within the policy does take into account the possibilities for students to be able to check-in with families to ease parent worries or concerns by letting them know they are safe,” Debo said.

The revisions to the policy also include extenuating circumstances, such as the hospitalization of a family member, which will allow students to keep their cellphones on with permission by a teacher or administrator. Debo encouraged parents, guardians, and students to keep an “open dialogue” with the building or district staff so cellphone use is known to be warranted.

“Ongoing two-way dialogue with students and parents is always a core value and pillar of a strong school-family relationship,” he said. “If there is a sensitive health matter related to a family member that may warrant cell phone permission to monitor, our building and district administration encourage open dialogue between students and parents as to how best support them during a medical emergency.”

If there is an unexpected emergency medical situation of a student’s family member that arises during the school day, the school’s front office will serve as the main focal point for parents and guardians to relay essential information to the students.

The revised policy will also continue to allow some students on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or with a medical condition to use personal communication devices.

“On a case-by-case basis, there are certainly individualized student needs to be taken into account such as devices that monitor speech to text for students with learning disabilities or that monitor real-time diabetes information through the use of flash glucose devices with Bluetooth capabilities,” said Debo. “The latest installment of the district personal communication device policy leaves unchanged previous language that provides an exemption for permitted use by a teacher, administrator or IEP team in addressing those medical and special education supports.”

While the board of education did discuss restricting the use of cellphones and other web-based devices for the entirety of school day at a special meeting in March, they will allow students to have access to their devices in-between class periods, during lunch, and during free period.

The district says it will also be more united in enforcing the revised policy. Students will be made aware of the change in policy and the consequences of ignoring the policy during orientation days for seventh and ninth graders and at the start of the school year for other grade levels.

“While enforcing school policies and student rules is never the most fulfilling task for staff and administration, the goal is to always preserve the learning environment, address barriers through further dialogue with a student, and to keep distractions to a minimum in pursuit of carrying out our most important charge – educating the next generation,” said Debo.

“Whether it be cell phones, attendance expectations, or definitions of acceptable behaviors, the district code of conduct provides a road map for sustaining an optimal learning environment for all learners. In the event an infringement were to occur deemed to be inconsistent with any expectation outlined in the code of conduct, not just with cell phones, there are corresponding measures to be taken in coordination with the building principal as to how to correct those unwanted behaviors when they arise and to help students recalibrate to acceptable school and societal norms and behaviors.”

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