Survey says!

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The Coeur d’Alene School Board is reviewing surveys from parents, staff, and students regarding cellphone use in schools. Pictured are students listening to a speaker during an assembly this fall at Lake City High School. LOREN BENOIT/Press file

COEUR d’ALENE — There are no quick or easy answers to the question of how to manage student cellphone use in Coeur d’Alene schools, but there are a lot of different opinions.

A survey taken over the last 10 days of November of parents, community members, school employees and students about the use of cellphones in schools returned 2,404 responses.

School board members on Monday discussed the survey feedback and considered possible policy changes to address classroom distractions caused by the devices.

“This is an area where I feel we have not only an issue in our schools but a societal issue when it comes to technology, and there is a lot of emerging research when it comes to things like technology addiction,” said Seth Deniston, the district’s director of technology, who presented the survey results.

Survey responses came from 180 school staff members, primarily classroom teachers in grades 6 to 12; 781 students, mainly high school students, although surveys were emailed to all middle school students as well; and 1,443 parents and community members. Of the parents and community members who participated, 93 percent were parents of a current student.

When asked whether a cellphone is primarily a communication device, distraction, learning tool or tool for bullying, most teachers, 63 percent, stated it is a distraction, while 26 percent considered it a communication device. Just 6 percent said it is a learning tool, and 5 percent said it’s a tool for bullying.

Very few students, 7 percent, said it’s a distraction, and the rest were split between whether a cellphone is primarily a communication device or a learning tool. Just .02 percent said it’s bullying tool.

For parents, 51 percent said it’s a communication device, 37 percent said a cellphone is primarily a distraction, 10 percent said it’s a learning tool and 3 percent said it’s a tool for bullying.

A wide range of opinions were shared in 76 comments from survey participants. A common theme was a lack of enforcement of the district’s current policy that says cellphones can be used in class but only with a teacher’s permission and supervision.

Board chair Casey Morrisroe said that with the current policy there is a lot of confusion and inconsistency between buildings and classrooms, and that makes it difficult for teachers.

“Primarily from parents (who responded to the survey), it was they want access to their children. They want teachers to enforce current policy. Nobody wants to see a child texting, listening to music and disrespecting a teacher, and we need to do better to ensure that’s not happening,” said board member Lisa May.

Board member Tambra Pickford said cellphones are a part of everyday life, something that’s not going to change.

“We need digital citizenship and if we can model this and teach this in the classroom, I’m for this,” Pickford said. “An all-out ban is a nightmare, I think.”

The school board members were asked to consider a policy drafted by the administration that calls for the use of personal electronic devices to be banned from use in classrooms “unless for appropriate and intentional educational purposes, under the direction and supervision of school staff.” The new policy defines educational purposes as “teacher directed, time bound, subject specific activities such as calculation, student response, formative assessment, word processing, research, accessing educational content such as digital textbooks, image capture/recording, sound recording, organization, note-taking, etc.”

Board member Tom Hearn presented a policy he drafted himself that calls for students to be allowed to have cellphones but they must be powered off and not in the physical possession of a student within a classroom. Hearn suggested student cellphones be placed in a “cubby” during class.

Hearn also suggested cellphones be used only when no other district-owned device, like a tablet or Chromebook, is available or can be used.

“We need to protect the educational environment, particularly in the classroom,” Hearn said.

Board member Dave Eubanks, who has previously voiced his opposition to cellphones in the classroom, said he thinks the principal at Canfield Middle School, where cellphone use by students is allowed only before and after school and during class with a teacher’s permission, “has it right.”

Eubanks said he would be OK with students using the phones during lunch period.

“But in the classroom, no way, unless it’s a special activity or assignment,” he said.

Superintendent Stan Olson said the administration will take Hearn’s draft policy and other suggestions from the board’s discussion, and draft a new policy to present to the board when they meet in January. “My hope in this, ultimately, is that our teachers can teach, and our kids can learn, without distractions,” Eubanks said.

To view the complete survey report, visit

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