Schools face deadline to set cellphone policy

It’s taken years but school administrators finally appear to be learning the hard way that cellphones do not belong in the classroom. Good thing because Minnesota public schools now face a mandate to set a policy on cellphone use by next March. Rep. Kristin Robbins, R-Maple Grove, told MPR it’s a step in the right direction on an issue tied to growing behavioral and learning problems.

Robbins said the bill language on cell phone policy was not exactly what she would have proposed, but added that she was pleased overall with the attempt to limit cell phone use in schools.

“We are getting somewhere on convincing schools to limit cell phone use. There are a lot of challenges with mental health in schools and this is the most low-hanging fruit,” Robbins said. “I have schools that have limited cell phone use during instruction time and it has completely changed the game in terms of focus, climate, fights, engagement, the teachers are happier.”

Mankato Area Public Schools is among an apparent handful of districts with a policy on cellphones already in place. The southern Minnesota district effectively banned students from using mobile devices prior to the last school year in the district policies handbook.

Students are prohibited from using mobile phones and other electronic communication devices, including headphones or earbuds, during the instructional day, except when allowable in designated areas. Students also are prohibited from using a mobile phone or other electronic communication device to engage in 524.5-1 conduct prohibited by school district policies including, but not limited to, cheating, bullying, harassment, and malicious and sadistic conduct. Mobile phones and other personal electronic devices shall remain silent and be kept out of sight during instructional time.

School districts will be provided with background information on restrictions implemented in other areas, but administrators will develop their own policies. The Brainerd School Board board hopes to have a policy in place in time for the new school year, according to the Dispatch.

They agreed during a board work session Friday, June 21, to work on developing a new cellphone policy that would prohibit the use of phones during the school day at Brainerd High School. While they haven’t yet determined just what that policy will look like, board members believe the move would go a long way toward improving student behaviors and achievement scores.

“It’s a terrible interference to teaching,” Interim Superintendent Peter Grant said during the work session. “… If there’s one thing that interferes with anything else in the classroom, it’s the cellphone because it leads to everything else — discipline problems, attention problems, academic problems.”

That seems to be the conclusion being belatedly reached by more administrators. One Brainerd school board member even suggested a stricter cellphone policy might even help increase enrollment.

Board member DJ Dondelinger said he firmly believes a cellphone ban would cut down on bullying issues and result in at least 100 Brainerd kids — perhaps even 200 — who have opted to enroll elsewhere coming back to the district, thus helping declining enrollment numbers.

“People will bring their kids back,” he said.

Brainerd has something of a head start, already banning cellphones in middle school. But the toughest sell could be extending cellphone restrictions to teachers, as some have suggested.