Cellphones, the ultimate distraction, keep children from learning, according to educators. However, in attempts to keep phones away from students, the most vocal opposition does not always come from them. It comes from parents in some cases.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, bans on the devices were on the rise. Struggles with student behavior and mental health have given some schools even more reason to restrict access since schools reopened.
However, parents and caregivers who had constant access to their children during remote learning were hesitant to give up that access. Some parents are concerned about losing contact with their children during a school shooting.
Shannon Moser, who has eighth and ninth grade students in Rochester, New York, said she felt pushed away as the Greece Central School District began locking away student phones this year. When students are able to record what is going on around them, she claims there is a form of accountability.
“Everything is so politicized and divisive.” “I think parents have a general fear of what’s going on with their children during the day,” Moser said. She described herself as a liberal, but many parents on both sides of the political spectrum feel the same way.
In the midst of increased scrutiny over issues such as race and inclusion, some parents see cellphone restrictions as a way to keep their children out of their kids’ education.
Over a decade ago, approximately 90% of public schools prohibited cellphone use; however, this figure dropped to 65% in the 2015-2016 school year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, bans were in place at 76% of schools by the 2019-2020 school year. California and Tennessee have recently passed legislation allowing schools to prohibit cell phones.
Educators, in particular, see a need to keep students on task in order to recover from pandemic shutdowns, during which many students lost the equivalent of months of learning.
And, given growing parental concern about pandemic-era screen time, many school officials may feel empowered to ban the devices, according to Liz Keren-Kolb, clinical associate professor of education technologies at the University of Michigan. However, she stated that parental perspectives on the debate run the gamut.
This year, the Washington School District in western Pennsylvania implemented a cellphone ban after educators increasingly found them to be an impediment. In the hallways and at the cafeteria tables, students were texting. Treg Campbell, a high school English teacher, said that some students would call home or answer phone calls in the middle of a class.
George Lammay, the superintendent, said the ban was the right decision.
In some cases, parental opposition has resulted in policy changes.
Cellphones were banned in the Brush School District in Colorado after teachers raised concerns about online bullying. When parents spoke up, the district held a two-hour community meeting, with the majority of testimony opposing the ban. The most important takeaway, according to Superintendent Bill Wilson, was that parents wanted their children to have access to their phones.
Cellphones are now permitted on campus, though they must be turned off and out of sight. The district also stated that it would accommodate a small number of students with special circumstances.
Before officials proposed purchasing magnetic pouches to seal student cellphones away during the school day, the Richardson Independent School District, near Dallas, prohibited student cellphone use during instructional time. Parent concerns about the pouches’ cost and safety in an emergency led to a scaled-back plan to pilot the pouches at Forest Meadow Junior High, one of the district’s eight middle schools.
According to her, children and their parents have mostly adjusted to the new policy.
There are many supporters of cellphone bans in parent activists’ online discussions. Others, on the other hand, have criticized bans as efforts to keep parents from witnessing “violence” and “indoctrination” in schools.
Legal action by parents is uncommon, with one exception being an unsuccessful lawsuit by several parents in 2006 against New York City’s school cellphone ban, which was eventually lifted in 2015. Despite this, petitions against school cellphone bans have increased this year on Change.org, according to a spokesperson.
There is no perfect formula for cellphones in schools, according to Kolb, who believes the pendulum will likely swing back toward bans depending on how attitudes toward technology in schools’ change.