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Accountability & Enforcing Policy:

Cell Phone Usage in Class 

Around the world, people heavily debate the effects of cellphones and other technologies. Some advocate for a complete ban of these distractions, while others believe technology should be used as a tool — even in the classroom. Following the lead of the new Head of High School Dr. Sim Pearl, AJA rolled out a new enforcement policy regarding cell phone use. Under the new plan, the school took the strong step of outlawing smartphones during the entire duration of each class period. The administration said the devices cause too much distraction, preventing students from learning.

The Journal of the Association for Consumer Research conducted a study that found that cell phones have the potential to improve learning, but their constant presence also comes with learning costs. Even when devices are not in use, they can still serve as a distraction to the student. Their study revealed that, “The mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity.” 

“Some advocate for a complete ban of these distractions, while others believe technology should be used as a tool — even in the classroom.”

Another research study published by the Rutgers University Psychology Department supports this observation. Two psychology professors divided a group of 118 college students into two groups. They taught each group the same material, but one group was allowed to have their devices open during class. On average, the group without the devices scored a half-letter grade higher on the exam. These cases support banning cell phones during class by demonstrating how cell phones cause distraction from student learning. 

Based on such conclusions, the High School established a more strict disciplinary system to ensure that students keep their phones away during class. The policy establishes a three offenses system: The first time a teacher sees a student on their phone during class, the teacher must take away the device and give it to Dr. Pearl; at the end of the day the student can retrieve it. On the second offense, the student’s phone will be given to Dr. Pearl again, along with a parent email from him. The third time, the phone is confiscated for five days, including over the weekend. Since the new rule has been created, ten phones have been taken. However, it seems that these students learned their lesson, as no second offenses have occurred so far. 

The ban has been received with a variety of negative responses from students. Senior Elliot Sokol shared his experience with the new policy: “There were about two minutes left in class, so I left for a bathroom break with my phone in hand. In the hallway, I passed a teacher while I turned it over to check the time, and my phone was taken away for the rest of the day.” While Elliot does not disagree that phones cause a distraction in class, he found it “way too strict” and “unfair” to lose it for the rest of the day, as he turned it on for just a moment outside of class. 

Junior Jordan Steinberg expressed a similar experience when he was “turning off [his] music right when class started, and then [his] phone got taken away for the rest of the day.” Another junior, Sam Kutner, described his situation, saying, “I was just trying to silence a call that would’ve disrupted the class, and instead I got my phone [taken] away.” 

These students haven’t expressed opposition to the phone ban, rather the way it’s currently implemented. “Instead of instantly punishing us by taking away our phones…our teachers should assess if the student is actually actively using it and causing distraction,” Elliot advised. 

“The main frustration students are expressing is not the ban itself, but how nitpicky it is..”

Other students propose banning the rule altogether. “Instead of this new disciplinary system, I think it should be the student’s responsibility to learn… if they’re on their phone, that’s on them for not learning, and they’ll have the consequences for that on their own,” Senior Miriam Lynn said. “We should learn how to have self-discipline even with distractions that could be in our pockets.”

Senior Yered Wittenberg agreed with Miriam. “In college, if you’re in class and miss the information, then you fail. I think that we should be treated the same way and face the consequence of failing the class if we choose not to pay attention,” he says. 

English teacher Mr. Dave Byron countered this claim and explained, “I think setting these good habits and learning what is expected of you is the larger lesson here. There’s always going to be expectations, and it’s about learning how to live up to them.” He affirmed that simply undergoing self-discipline isn’t enough, as the consequence of failing an exam is not immediate or effective enough. As a teacher, he gathers that the policy “seems like it’s working” and “hardly any phones are out in class these days.” Mr. Byron concluded his stance and explained, “I think it’s a tough battle, and heightening the consequences is a good way to fight it.”      

Since the new policy has been implemented, science teacher Mrs. Catherine Brand recognized a “marked improvement” and “fewer people trying to use cellphones in class.” Student self-regulated phone use “doesn’t work,” Mrs. Brand said. She explained, “Your parents are paying for you to get an education and….no parent is going to say, “Yes,” to their kid failing because the teacher allowed them to be on their phone during class.”  

Dr. Stephenson, a history teacher, stated that in past occurrences when students’ grades suffered due to phone use in class, their parents asked the teacher to make sure their child was not allowed to use it. Parents expect that the teachers remove the phone distraction and not give their child the ability to misuse it. Contrary to the students’ opinions, the teachers find the new policy conducive to their classrooms.  

The main frustration students are expressing is not the ban itself, but how nitpicky it is. Dr. Pearl gave a reason for this: “Is it bad that the phone is just sitting on the desk if no one is looking at it? Of course not. Is it bad to check the time? No.” However, he says, “It’s a slippery slope. You start a little bit down the slope, and then you keep sliding and sliding. And where do you stop?” 

If the rules are not concrete, they become hard to follow. The consequences are harsh to ensure that students are deterred from breaking the rules. Dr. Pearl acknowledges the severity of these rules and affirms they may not always stay like that. “God willing, we can get to the stage where we can count on everybody to [follow the rules].” Seeing that no one has reached a second offense, it seems the students are on the way to doing so.

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