This article was written by journalism student Jonah Edson
“I feel like it’s been a profound change for the better,” said Meg Allison, a librarian at U-32. U-32 has established a new phone policy in the 2023-2024 school year. Students are prohibited from using cell phones and other personal electronics in educational spaces like classrooms, in the library, and during callback.
The policy creates a more focused space in classes. “There’s a lot more student engagement,” said JB Hilferty, the Dean of Students. “Students are much more attentive and aware of what’s going on.”
According to JB, the rule also benefits teachers, letting them take another look at how they teach and aim to engage students more. ”I overheard…one of my colleagues say, my gosh, I realize that potentially my lessons aren’t as entertaining as I thought now that everyone’s actually listening to what I say.”
“I would say overwhelmingly positive [feedback] from parents,” said JB. The feedback he’s received is that the majority of student’s parents think cell phones being banned is a great thing, even that it should have been done earlier. JB said, “I haven’t had a [parent] that I would have communicated with outside of school that would have a negative reaction to the cell phone policy.”
JB hasn’t explicitly received negative feedback from students, either. “I think most students realize [that] all we’re asking is [no phones] during class time,” said JB. The phone rule doesn’t completely restrict phones, it only restricts them in educational spaces. They’re allowed during lunch, in the halls, and during free bands.
Mayla Landis-Marinello, a sophomore, likes the rules because she doesn’t have a phone, and it means her teammates will use other ways to communicate things about their team and she won’t miss them. She said, “I missed out on a lot of social aspects, like you don’t have a phone, so people would forget to send it out to you.”
“I think it has positive effects because other people are respecting their teachers in class,” said Mayla. while the rules don’t affect her in that way, she thinks it’s helping her peers.
The majority of students appear to be following the new phone rules, though a few don’t respect them. “You know, there’s a number of [students] that have multiple infractions, but it’s a very small percentage of kids that [the phone policy] has impacted in the sense of being asked to put it away,” said JB.
“There’s a growing concern and feel that there’s a need for some sort of cell phone procedure,” said JB. According to him, the number of teachers who think that cell phones are affecting students’ focus and concentration is increasing. He said, “It’s hard to be in a class and hear that phone ding or vibrate and not want to check your texts or tune out [from the lesson].”
The administration decided how the policy would work. According to JB, a “huge amount of research” was behind it to ensure that it was the right decision, and they came to the conclusion that the benefits did not outweigh the negatives. He said, “[A lot] of research just talks about the impact a cell phone has on the brain, period, let alone students in a classroom.”
Another positive factor behind the rule was how other schools around the state are also enforcing similar rules. JB said, “For example, Essex Middle School just instituted a ban on cell phones altogether, [where] the kids walk through the doors and put them in a lockbox.”
JB helped create the policy, but not by himself. He said, “I was part of the policy in the sense that I helped draft some of the language over the summer as part of a committee of people.” He also helps to enforce the policy and make sure students are following the rules.
The administration were not the only ones who wanted the rule to come into place. JB said, “It was a decision that came about from a number of requests from teachers.”
The phone policy hasn’t met a lot of issues. “I think the challenge from an adult or faculty perspective is fatigue, you know, not becoming complacent,” said JB. Teachers have to be consistent and keep up on enforcing the expectations for the policy to have its desired effect.
“It’s bad for sports teams, because [that’s] how they communicate,” said Mika Millard, a senior. She doesn’t like how you can’t use your phone in the library but otherwise doesn’t have problems with the new rules. “I feel fine about it. I mean, I see where the staff are coming from,” said Mika.
Caleb Webster isn’t as sure that the rule is working to that effect. “People are just being more secretive with their phones,” said Caleb. He hasn’t noticed a decrease in phones in class, just people complaining about the rule.
While the new phone policy went into effect, a new rule in the library also did. It prohibits phone use in the library, which is considered an educational space.
“I was actually nervous that it was going to impact relationships with students,” said Meg. Student relationships haven’t been detrimentally affected by the library’s rule, though. “Students have, for the most part, been respectful,” said Meg.
Meg wanted to lower the influence on middle school students. “It’s easier when the middle schoolers are here because in prior times, they would often pop on their cell phones because they saw high schoolers on their cell phones,” said Meg. Middle schoolers are allowed in the library during lunch and callback, but were not allowed to have their phones at all. “We were oftentimes reminding them to put their phones away,” said Meg. “They look up to the high school students.”
Meg enjoys how the rule has made the library a better, calmer place. “We would have from 80 to 100 kids in here for an hour and a half every day, running through, being loud, on their cell phones,” said Meg. According to her, the space was full of drama and swears and “F-bombs” being used all the time. The rule has changed this. She said, “And now we just don’t have that same atmosphere.”
The “student lounge” type atmosphere that the library used to have wasn’t what the librarians wanted. “We are an academic space, not a social space,” said Meg.
This doesn’t mean she doesn’t want students to be able to hang out and chat with their friends, but she wants to make sure the space can remain educational. She said, “We’re an educational institution, the library is at the heart of the educational institution.”
“I think it’s going really well,” said Meg. “What we’ve noticed are so many more students are using the library to study.”
“Librarians are very concerned with digital citizenship, Jill teaches about it in middle school,” said Meg. She’s interested in how these new rules will come to affect the students and their schooling. “Do test scores go up? Is social-emotional health more balanced? Do students feel more supported? Those are the stats I’m really interested in hearing about.”
The library is also quieter. Classes being held in the library are impacted positively by this. She said, “I think students have quickly adapted and the library is an academic space.” The atmosphere has improved, in both an academic and social way. “People are kinder, people are treating me and my colleagues with more respect,” said Meg.
The phone rule doesn’t limit anyone from using the library. “We’re able to use the library in a way that’s really productive for the students,” said Meg, “and because we have an open door policy, all students are still allowed to use the library, just without their cell phones, so we’re not limiting access in any capacity.”
There are minor exceptions where they won’t take away students’ phones. “But it’s a very specific request, like they have to get something printed, you know,” said Meg. “But we do ask students to go to the atrium, or the back room if they need to pull that phone out real quick.”
Meg has noticed the positive impact on the students. She said, “I have students feeling calmer, more balanced, more centered, and more time to do their work.” She’s excited to hear more student feedback and learn about how it’s affecting the students’ school lives moving forward.
Caleb said, “One day we’re gonna rebel. Put that on record.”