Should Prince Edward schools completely ban cell phones?

Published 7:32 am Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The problem is something that’s popping up in Prince Edward schools, at both the middle and high school. As it stands, students are currently only allowed to have cell phones at the high school in a “respectful, non-disruptive use” during lunch. But as school board members are learning, those rules aren’t exactly being followed. 

“The student affairs committee has noticed that some students who come before us have problems with discipline and class disruption,” said school board member Beulah Womack. “These students have been known to use cell phones at school for bullying, intimidation, some students are going on social media (and posting) images meant to harass, tease or intimidate other students. They’re also (posting) compromising photographs.” 

Womack said she recognizes that phones can be used in different ways to help students with assignments, but that’s not what’s happening. Instead, she asked the school board during its Wednesday, Dec. 6 meeting if they need to completely ban cell phones across the district. 

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“Those things are eroding the mental stability of our children,” said board member Elzora Stiff. “And because they’re not socializing in ways we’re used to them socializing, they’re getting into other difficulties. I firmly believe that we do need to have another conversation whether what we have is effective.” 

What board members heard during the meeting is that students in the middle and high school bring their phones on a regular basis, refusing to give them up to teachers when asked. Some parents are also not supportive, when contacted about taking phones away from students. Instead, some students keep their phones, using them to disrupt class or taking them when on a bathroom break to post things to social media once outside of class. 

“I know it’s a real problem,” said school board member Doug Farley. “I would like to do away with cell phones all together (at school) and let them socialize the way we did. But I don’t know what the answer is.” 

Options for Prince Edward schools 

Prince Edward Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson said the district’s hands in some ways were tied, as parental support is needed to take cell phones from students. On the other hand, an outright ban could avoid that problem, informing parents that cell phones are not allowed on school grounds at all. School board member Dr. Timothy Corbett floated another option, that as soon as students enter the building, they have to turn over their cell phone, checking it into a locker of sorts. The district would have to buy those lockers, however. And then would students or parents rent them? Regardless of what the board finally decides, Corbett argued that this isn’t a one-time vote. 

“I think this is a discussion we should probably have every year,” he said, saying Prince Edward needs to keep up with technology. 

And beyond that, school board member Kelly Forsythe pointed out this isn’t something that can just go away with a simple vote. Some families have students keep cell phones with them to communicate about how they’re getting picked up from school or if they need to ride the bus. Other families have seen the mass shootings and other issues across the nation on tv and want their children to keep a cell phone on hand in case of an emergency. But at the same time, that doesn’t give students permission to use them to disrupt classes, so there needs to be a balance, Forsthye argued. 

“Cell phone usage is multifaceted,” Forsythe said. “It’s more than school board policy. It’s where teachers stand, it’s where families stand, it’s how students feel.” 

Board members asked the staff to do some research and come back to them in the next two months with some recommendations about any changes.