More schools banning cellphones as students return to school this fall

MILFORD, Mass. — As kids head back to school, their backpacks will be filled with notebooks, pens and pencils, and in most cases a cellphone.

But they might not need that last item. A growing number of schools are banning cellphones this year.

A complete ban on cellphones is a controversial step, but some administrators say they’ve tried other disciplinary measures and they just don’t work.

At Milford High School, the rules are pretty simple. “When class is in session, it’s our expectation that your phones are away and that you’re not using your phone,” explained Principal Josh Otlin.

When a student breaks that rule, the phone is immediately placed in a small locker in the administration office.

“Their guardian would have to come and pick it up, either later that day or the next day, and secondly they would have to report to Saturday school as a punitive consequence,” said Otlin.

Otlin says teachers were spending too much time in class policing phones and the educational consequences of students being distracted were real. “There’s some commonsense appeal to saying that less time on these devices is probably going to be better for adolescents, and we owe it to our students to make school something of a sanctuary.”

More schools across the state are adopting tougher rules, including outright bans on the devices.

We asked students at Hyde Park Skate Park about this trend.

One young woman said, “I do see many students using their phones during class, which can definitely be a problem.”

One young man doesn’t believe a ban would work. “They’re just going to use it anyway.”

Another added, “I think that you shouldn’t take it away, especially because if there’s an emergency people need to communicate with their parents.”

Fear of a student uprising isn’t stopping the Buxton School in the Berkshires from banning cellphones from their entire campus this fall.

That means adults too.

“I think the shock, the first reaction was definitely shock,” said the Franny Shucker-Haines, the school’s director.

Going phone-free has been on the table for a few years. Shuker-Haines thinks social media is just so overwhelming today that everyone will benefit from a break from it.

“We have really felt for a long time that smartphones were corrosive,” said Shuker-Haines. “Even five years ago, our students were not, and our adults, were not as dependent on these devices. We’re not using them the same way.”

Otlin thinks Milford High School benefits from a zero-tolerance policy in class while allowing students to use phones at lunch and in the hallways.

However, he understands, why some districts think today’s circumstances call for a clean sweep.

“I wouldn’t say it’s too severe. It would be my preference to avoid going to a total ban, if possible, but I wouldn’t take it off the table,” Otlin said. “I want to treat our students in the manner that I would want to be treated if I was in their shoes.”

A cellphone ban was too much for at least one student at the Buxton School. She won’t be coming back.

Shuker-Haines says everyone else is returning this fall.

She says it’s important to note that students will still have access to laptops and tablets. They’re just losing connectivity they can carry in their back pocket.

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