‘Review process’ is a cop-out: Ban the phones

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Coeur d’Alene School District is going to do what most big organizations do when confronted with a serious problem: Study the hell out of it. That’s much easier than making a tough decision and living with some inevitable criticism.

In trying to decide what to do about smartphones in the hands of thousands of students during school hours, district officials are not going to simply ban them from first bell to last, as they should. Instead, they’re going to “draft a review process.” That will presumably include the use of surveys, conducting sessions with staff, students and the community, and seeing what’s being done in other school districts.

This was the “decision” rendered last week, and it’s a head-scratcher. While district officials don’t want to overreact simply because several of their high school students used social media recently to threaten the lives of other students and staff, there is enough evidence and an overwhelming amount of common sense to suggest a different course of action:

Do what former teacher and now Trustee Dave Eubanks recommends. Ban cellphone use from the minute school is in session until the last bell rings. Violators will forfeit their phones until the end of the school year.

Look, we can sugar coat the issue with all sorts of feel-good exercises in an attempt to build consensus, which is a clever way of distributing the responsibility so broadly that nobody can be blamed if this thing backfires. But it won’t backfire because we have a blatantly obvious problem in our schools that every teacher and administrator — and most students, if they’d answer honestly — would acknowledge.

At best, these smartphones are distractions that keep students’ minds off the reasons they’re actually in class. The devices make teachers’ already difficult jobs almost impossible. Youthful inattentiveness is a universal challenge for instructors. Arming kids with smartphones during class hours only encourages focus where it does not belong.

At worst, the phones are being used to capture and disseminate photos of students’ genitals, to serve as horrific fists in the hands of cyber bullies, to cheat on exams and assignments, and to retard the social maturity of otherwise bright young people.

We’ve been down this road before. In 2008, Coeur d’Alene School District banned student cellphone use of any kind during the school day. Two years later, Lake City High Principal Deanne Clifford told The Press that she’d seen a marked decrease in cellphone-related issues — theft, cheating, bullying and porn — since cellphone use had been banned. Clifford estimated that the no cellphone policy had reduced associated disciplinary action by roughly 80 percent.

But a policy change later opened the floodgates for cellphone use and abuse, which hit a terrifying peak with the threats at Lake City High last month. School board member Tom Hearn said he’d heard from some LCHS teachers when higher security and a student cellphone ban were temporarily in place.

“They were saying, ‘It sure is nice that kids are actually talking to each other. They’re not looking at their cellphones all the time. They are interacting with each other,’” Hearn said.

One decision can immediately create greater interaction and a far better learning environment.

Ban those blasted devices during school hours.

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