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District phone policies under review


District mobilizes, sending out a survey to indicate whether or not current student phone usage policies will change in light of Assembly Bill 272

 A newly amended Assembly Bill 272 written by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) officially went into action on Jan. 1 of 2020, giving school districts greater freedom to restrict student phone usage on campuses. Due to this, a stricter policy  on phone use throughout most of the school day is highly likely according to PRJUSD administrators and teacher remarks. A ban is possible.

Al Muratsuchi; photo by California House of Assembly [Public domain]

The bill seeks to decrease distraction, claiming that phones inhibit the productivity of the general student body and have adverse effects on student mental health.

“There is growing evidence that unrestricted use of smartphones by students in schools interferes with the educational mission of the school, lowers pupil performance, particularly among low-achieving pupils, promotes cyberbullying, and contributes to teenage anxiety, depression, and suicide,” Muratsuchi said.

Statistically, student test scores increased when phones were banned entirely from school campuses, according to the bill, citing a 2015 discussion paper by the London School of Economics. However, the bill does mention that this increase was due to increased productivity among disadvantaged, underachieving students. It is also noted that there was very little change among already high-achieving students.

The school is actively seeking input from students, parents, and teachers. On Jan. 31, Vice Principal Dan Sharon sent out an email to all tutorial teachers with a survey on student cell phone usage. Less than a week later, Assistant Principal Tom Harrington sent out the survey to students once again, encouraging the student body to take it as student input is critically important.

In regards to how students use their phones, 74% of students claim to mainly use their phones for assignments and research during class time, but the same percentage also admit to texting in class, according to a district survey.

Infographic by TJ Rothbauer

However, students aren’t too keen on the possibility of a ban. To many, the idea that the general student body would follow a ban is ludicrous.

“I think that if the school wanted to ban phones completely, the students wouldn’t follow the ban – they’d find a way to have their electronics on them and would still use them during school hours,” junior Katherine Reid said.

“Even if the ban were to work, students would find other ways to distract themselves,” she attested. According to a district survey, many students agree, with 25.4% of over 1200 PRJUSD students surveyed saying that they would still use their cell phones if the district instituted a no-phones policy. 

In the same survey around 90% of students said that they were against a ban even if it was to stop issues cited in the survey,  such as cyberbullying, unproductive classrooms, and videos of illicit activities such as fights on campus.

Luckily for students, instead of outright banning phones, many in the district hope to meet in the middle. Dr. Joseph Williams, Director of Student Services and the individual manning the district survey, believes such.

Joseph Williams; photo by PRJUSD [Public domain]

“Cell phones have revolutionized our society and given us instant access to the world and increased communication when used appropriately. When used inappropriately, numerous research studies have uncovered negative correlations to the developing brain of teenagers and the overuse of cell phones. My lived experience has validated both data points. We seek to find a balance with students that balances the positive outcomes and diminishes the negative outcomes,” Williams said.

In addition, if a solution is needed to end phone usage among students, there are many better possibilities according to Reid.

“If the school wants to do anything about phones, they should require all teachers to have some form of phone holder – for example, a calculator holder. If all teachers had this and actually enforced it, students would not be on their phones in class, but if there was ever an emergency, the kids would have their phones in the same room so then they could contact their parents,” Reid added.

Anonymously, teachers have expressed frustration at the current state of illicit student cell phone usage.

“It seems that a majority of students see their electronic devices as an appendage. While they can be useful at times, phones seem to be a consistent distraction from classwork, homework, and potential social interaction between peers in and outside of the classroom. Most negative interactions between students and teachers revolve around cell phone use, and it would be nice to not have those interactions with students on a regular basis. I would much rather have positive interactions with them,” one teacher said.

“Some students spend the entire period looking my way to find an opportunity to use their phone. While most students are reasonable and attentive, some are so distracted that they learn next to nothing. It is very frustrating!” another wrote.

According to the district, 70% of PRJUSD teachers believed that cell phone usage in their classroom was a major problem. In addition, 75% of teachers said that if a no-phones policy would be put into place that they would lead by example and not use their phones.

Anthony Overton

As a former teacher himself, principal Anthony Overton understands the value of technology in the classroom. However, like many officials and teachers on campus, he feels that the current state of campus usage is a distraction from academics.

“I believe that cell phones and the wide variety of uses they serve have the ability to be extremely useful, but simultaneously extremely harmful in terms of student productivity, as cell phone. Technology violations are our number one minor discipline infraction,” he explained.

The final decision on policy will most likely be happening at a March board meeting, according to Williams. Until then, students have time to voice their opinions and influence district policy.

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