Cellphones: Powered off, out of sight, ‘off the person’

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COEUR d’ALENE — Out of sight does not mean out of mind when it comes to kids and smartphones.

It was that logic that led a majority of Coeur d’Alene school board members on Monday, after months of discussion and debate, to create a new district-wide policy for cellphone use by students while in school.

The new rule allows students to bring cellphones to school, but when they are not being used under the direction of school staff for a specific educational purpose, the devices must be powered off, out of sight and “off the person.” The phones can be left in backpacks, lockers or elsewhere, but cannot be in the direct possession of a student while in the classroom.

Students with documented disabilities who use approved assistive technology apps for medical and other purposes would be an exception.

During the discussion prior to the vote, Trustee Dave Eubanks said research has shown cellphones are addictive and allowing them within reach in the classroom creates anxiety for youngsters and teens.

“Some of our kids won’t be able to resist,” Eubanks said.

The board was asked to approve a policy with procedures that called for students in kindergarten through fifth-grade to have their phones powered-off and “off person,” but allowed students in middle and high school to keep their phones on them as long as they were powered off and out of sight.

Trustees Tom Hearn and Eubanks each opposed the procedures and policy as presented.

“I’m completely convinced that the best thing we can do in the schools is for these cellphones, these electronic devices, to be turned off and also off the person at the higher grades,” Hearn said.

Hearn said research has shown, the farther a cellphone is away from a student, the better the student does in school.

“Psychologists are now telling us that just having it in the pocket is a distraction,” Eubanks said.

Hearn’s motion to approve an amended version of the policy that prohibits all students from having their powered-off phones on them in the classrooms, unless they are being used with permission by the teacher, was approved by a vote of 3 to 2, with board chair Casey Morrisroe voting with Hearn and Eubanks. Trustees Lisa May and Tambra Pickford opposed.

Pickford said she felt the original policy should stand, with high school students allowed to have their phones with them. She said high school students are young adults who need to learn how to be responsible digital citizens who know when it’s OK to use their phones and when it’s not.”

“I agree with Tambra. I think we’re not logically thinking right now of the work that we’re asking of our district administration, principals, teachers to now be policing pockets for cellphones that are already turned off,” May said.

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