BY MOLLY SLOAN (Editor-in-Chief)
When Truman’s new cell phone policy, complete with brand new Yondr pouches, was introduced at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, it was met with shock. Many students had gotten in the habit of using their phones in the hallways, before and after class, and even during class time. The new phone policy was a rapid change of pace from the lax attitudes teachers had taken in previous years; administrators were cracking down on phone use harder than ever before. For a lot of students who relied on their phones to get through the day, the new policy was a major disappointment. But as time goes on, the policy seems to be less and less effective. The majority of teachers no longer enforce it as it was intended, and students are on their phones almost constantly. It’s certainly a far cry from the policy administration put into place two years ago.
Senior Kyria Soliz remembers the beginning of her sophomore year when the stricter phone policy was implemented. She was not a fan. “I feel Truman’s cell phone policy is a little overbearing,” she said. “I think it was much better when they just gave us warnings when cell phones were a distraction rather than taking them away for the whole day.” This was the common consensus among students, especially coming after the leniency they had experienced in previous years.
The new phone policy wasn’t just unpopular among students: teachers weren’t thrilled by it, either. It meant more responsibility and much stricter discipline on their part–they had to change their entire approach to cell phone use. Many teachers had even gotten into the habit of using their own phones during instructional time, and they felt that they had to cut back in order to properly enforce the policy. At the time, Frau Gipfert, Truman’s German teacher, was used to letting students use their phones for class. “At first, I was totally against it since I used to let students use their phones as dictionaries all the time, including myself,” she said. Even on school grounds, phones had become such an essential part of everyday life that getting rid of them was a major adjustment for students and teachers alike.
Teachers sending students to the office, for example, was a frequent occurrence when the policy was first implemented and students weren’t used to operating without their phones. In many cases, disruptions like this could pose even more of a risk to students’ learning than cell phones themselves. “Using cell phones in class does distract from giving your full attention to the teacher, but I think it’s more detrimental to students’ learning when a teacher has to stop the class to send them to the office,” said Soliz. “They’re missing more learning opportunities.” Especially at first, consequences for phone use often meant that teachers were stopping in the middle of instruction, thus disrupting learning time for the entire class, as well as the offending student. As time went on, this process became smoother, but whether or not it’s less disruptive than a more lenient policy is up for debate.
Despite the controversy, the phone policy did have a significant positive impact on the school environment. When students understood that there were consequences for using their phones, the majority stopped and were more able to focus on class. Gipfert, who didn’t care for the policy at first, found that it grew on her after a while. “After actually implementing the policy, the number of distractions greatly went down and people started getting books from the library and actually reading them again, like when they were done with a test or quiz,” she said. When left with nothing to do in their down time, it was a lot easier for students to find something more productive to do.
As time goes on, though, enforcement of the policy has gotten less and less strict. Without the constant threat of having their phones taken away, students are much more likely to use them during class. They no longer have the expectation that they’re going to be punished, and this all comes down to increasing leniency from teachers and administrators. “Teachers are much less strict than when the policy was first implemented,” said Soliz. “Since COVID, it’s been much more lax. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Yondr bag.” The unusual circumstances of the pandemic have created a very different atmosphere at Truman, and the phone policy isn’t as much of a priority as it used to be.
For Gipfert, this comes down to the example being set by administration and other teachers. “I no longer Yondr people I either don’t know or see in the hallway,” she said, “but that is mostly because I see students walk by admin with their phones out, and they don’t do anything sometimes, so I feel like why should I?” Even though she is less strict than she used to be, she believes that the frequency of phone use at school can be detrimental. “I think for most students phone use can be a hindrance,” she said. “I’m guilty of it too: I go to write an email at home on my phone and get distracted doing other things on it. It’s easy to do.” And in class, this mindless distraction can be a major problem, especially for students whose grades are already suffering.
All cell phone regulations are in some way controversial, and it’s difficult for a school to settle on a policy that works for everyone. For Soliz, that more leniency when it comes to phones is a better solution than the regular disruption of Yondr bags. “I think the old policy was more effective when they gave us three warnings if it was a distraction, but we could still use them as we please,” she said. “I just feel like it shouldn’t matter if it’s not a distraction.”
There are a lot of reasons the issue is as complicated as it is. Phones are an important and useful tool, and for a lot of students, they are essential. “Not everyone has a stable household where they know what they are doing or where they are going after school and with whom,” said Gipfert. “Some people switch houses during the week for whatever reason, and they might need to get a hold of someone.” It’s true that everyone’s circumstances are different, and what might be a reasonable cell phone policy for some students won’t work for everyone. Certainly, in the modern world, restricting the communication we’ve come to rely on so heavily might no longer be appropriate. It’s very possible that this is why Truman’s policy seems to have fallen out of favor with so many teachers and students. At the end of the day, a rule will never be effective if people are unwilling to follow and enforce it. After so many years spent fighting against them, it might finally be time to accept that phones are here to stay.
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