Everett schools clamping down on cellphone use in classroom

Next fall, if students don’t keep them turned off it could result in confiscation and suspension.

EVERETT — When students in Everett public schools arrive on campus this fall they’ll face new rules requiring them to turn off and stow away their cell phones during class.

Elementary and middle school students will only be allowed to use them before and after school. Otherwise the phones and other personal electronic devices need to be kept in a backpack, locker or other storage provided by the school.

High school students will be able to carry their phones around and even use them at lunch and in the minutes between periods. But they must be powered off in class.

District officials spent nearly seven months working with parents, staff and students on the changes, which the Everett School Board finalized June 18.

“We were trying to make sure we heard from as many different perspectives as we could,” said Larry Fleckenstein, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, who steered the effort. “We believe that the parameters put in place support instruction and learning and don’t prevent student access to a phone in any emergency.”

As the process evolved teachers came down on both sides of this issue, said Jared Kink, president of the Everett Education Association, which is the union for classroom instructors.

Some didn’t want it. They feel it is their role to teach students how to use cell phones responsibly so as not to detract from instruction, he said. Others felt the new policy’s bright line is required because use of the devices was seriously distracting from learning in their classrooms.

Kink isn’t a fan of the new policy and said it will be a challenge to implement.

“They are trying to change a significant social issue in the classroom,” he said. “It’ll be difficult because (cell phones) are so prevalent in our society.”

As written, students could have their phones confiscated for an initial violation and be suspended or expelled for multiple offenses. Kink figures lots of high school students could get in trouble quickly which could potentially force principals to make critical decisions on discipline.

“It is an absolute policy,” he said. Its effectiveness “all comes down to how well that policy is enforced.”

Everett is the latest district to enact tougher rules in pursuit of protecting the learning environment by compelling students to take a time out from their devices.

The Mukilteo School District adopted one of the area’s toughest policies in 2011.

It required students turn off all telecommunication devices during the regular school day except in an emergency situation involving imminent physical danger or if they were instructed to do so by a school administrator. And it gave school leaders clearer authority to check student cellphones for bullying or sexually explicit photos or messages.

Students in the Arlington School District are told that use of their phones and other devices cannot “pose a threat to academic integrity, disrupt the learning environment, compromise personal safety, or violate the privacy rights of others.” Per the student handbook, phones can only be turned on and operated before and between classes, during the lunch break, and after school.

“Cell phones are not to be out/seen/heard during class time without permission from the teacher,” the handbook states.

There’s a similar edict in place in the Lake Stevens School District.

“All electronic devices shall not be seen, heard or used during class time in any classroom or on any school property. This includes hallways, bathrooms, during assemblies, etc.,” reads the district policy regarding student behavior.

If a student messes up, the phone will be confiscated and cannot be retrieved until the end of the day. Upon a second offense, a parent or guardian has to come pick it up. A third or subsequent violation brings discipline.

Marysville School District does not have a specific policy governing cell phone use by students. Rather, each school is allowed to develop its own rules.

That’s pretty much how it had been working in Everett.

Under a 2013 policy, students were educated at the beginning of the year on proper etiquette. While students were expected to silence their phone in class, teachers were encouraged to allow them to use them “when appropriate to the instructional target and learning experience.”

In December, a couple Everett High School teachers showed up at a school board meeting to voice concerns about the growing distraction caused by students’ use of cell phones in the classroom, Fleckenstein said.

Directors wanted to see if the provisions could be improved. Fleckenstein engaged the district’s policy review council, whose members include students, parents, staff, administrators and teachers.

In the course of the conversation, parents stressed the importance of ensuring their children had access to a cell phone in an emergency. Teachers and other school officials wanted to preserve the sanctity of the classroom as a venue for learning, recalled Fleckenstein, who brought in examples of how other districts in the area tackled the matter.

“We took all of our guidance from as many stakeholders as possible,” he said. “The vast majority of our students are using technology appropriately. Unfortunately it only takes one or two in a classroom to distract other kids.”

The changes take effect with the start of the school year but the district plans to ease it in to give students time to adjust and learn new habits.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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