Acknowledging that students are hard-pressed to be separated from their cell phones today — sometimes long enough to look up and have a conversation or even simply pay attention in class — the Plumas Unified School District’s (PUSD) Governing Board of Trustees has adopted a new technology policy covering personal electronic devices on campus.
Managing appropriate student use of cell phones and digital devices during the school day has become increasingly difficult the trustees agreed, with input from district administrators and teachers.
So when school resumes in August, students in grades K-12 will be subject to new restrictions on the use of cell phones, smart watches, tablets and other mobile communications devices at school.
Leslie Edlund, president of the board, and trustees Joleen Cline, Dave Keller, Dwight Pierson and Traci Holt, clerk of the board, voted 5-0 at the June 27 school board meeting to adopt new guidelines that end student cell phone use at K-6 campuses during the school day and strongly restrict the use of digital devices at junior and senior high schools.
“I’ve got a teenager,” said Trustee Holt. “Cell phones are distracting and our students are in school to learn. We’re losing touch (as a society) and it doesn’t mean a thing to teenagers. They just want to be on Snapchat. There’s a reason why schools elsewhere are banning them.”
Trustee Cline agreed, saying she appreciated the input received earlier from Chester Junior-Senior High School Principal Terry Hernandez.
“Mr. Hernandez is right,” Cline remarked. “He says by the time kids get to school in the morning, they’re already wound up from things they’ve seen on social media. It’s difficult to manage and the drama continues all day. Whatever policy we adopt, it has to be consistent across all of our schools in the district. We need to teach our kids the importance of disconnecting.”
Trustee Pierson also concurred, saying, “It’s addictive. What a sad thing. I was at the Smithsonian earlier this year and everyone was staring at their phones, not talking to one another.”
Trustee Keller asked for thoughts about allowing each school site to have discretion as to how much enforcement to exert.
The group consensus was that uniformity across all school sites in the district was the better course to take, making it easier for principals, teachers and staff to maintain a consistent policy.
Board President Edlund said she had concerns about how Plumas County families would react to any new restrictions the school district might impose.
“We may get some push-back from parents about connectedness with their child,” Edlund commented, citing examples she had heard about needing to reach students to say a doctor’s appointment was rescheduled or to please meet the parent at the front office by a specific time.
Greenville Junior-Senior High School Principal Traci Cockerill attended the meeting and offered her thoughts.
“I would prefer there to be no site-based discretion on this matter,” the principal said. “It’s going to take a while, but parents need to know that what their child is doing in school right that moment is more important than getting a text to them that says meet me in the office in 15 minutes.”
Cockerill, who also serves as principal for Indian Valley Elementary, further advised the trustees that she and other administrators deal with multiple challenges of the digital generation on a weekly basis.
“We have kids posting during school and not understanding that nothing is private on the Internet,” Cockerill said. “It’s our responsibility to teach them about digital citizenship — what is it about the phone that’s the problem? We have to teach them about their digital footprint and that every time they hit or tap or swipe on something, they’re putting data out there. Many students don’t see why they shouldn’t give out phone numbers, passwords or locker combinations and other personal information.”
Considering additional input from other school site administrators, the school board accepted that principals and teachers do not want to become cell-phone police on their campuses.
PUSD Superintendent Terry Oestreich said, “Principals at the elementary sites have no issues, they want cell phones off and put away for the school day.”
But at the junior-senior high schools, Oestreich explained, principals don’t want to police students who are sneaking access to their phones during the day.
“They feel there will be a lot of issues with students doing this if cell phones are banned completely (at those grade levels),” the superintendent said.
In the end, the trustees chose to establish a no-cell-phones or digital-devices approach at the K-6 school sites.
For the county’s four junior-senior high school campuses — Chester, Greenville, Portola and Quincy — firm new limits have been enacted upon the times when cell phones, smart watches, tablets or other digital devices may be on and/or in use at school.
For example, unless a teacher specifically asks students to use their phones as part of a classroom assignment or other instruction, all devices must be off and put away, not to be used when class is in session.
No texting, scrolling, tapping or swiping in the hallways on the way to the restroom or at assemblies, either.
However, the school board did approve one important exception within the new policy and it covers the medical necessity for electronic signaling devices that students may possess because they have been determined, by a licensed physician or surgeon, to be essential for a student’s health. Any such device that is needed and used only for health-related purposes is approved to be in a student’s possession and operating during the school day.
When classes start up again at the end of summer and the hallways fill with students’ laughter, Plumas County kids may find the new devices policy is something that they have to adjust to.
But the trustees have agreed that allowing seventh through 12th-graders to use their phones at lunch and before and after school is a generous provision they are willing to make for this generation of digerati.
For more information, parents are welcome to contact their local school or call the PUSD offices at 283-6500.
New Devices and Cell Phone Rules for Plumas County Schools
Elementary School students:
K-6 students must turn off cell phones, smart watches, tablets or other electronic devices and put them away each morning from the start of classes until the end of the school day.
Junior-Senior High students:
For grades 7-12, electronic devices are not to be out during class time unless a teacher requests them to be used as part of classroom instruction in some fashion. Additionally, cell phones, smart watches, tablets and other devices are not to be used while in the hallways going to and from the restrooms or at assemblies.
Permitted devices are allowed to be used at lunchtime, but are to be turned off during class time and at any time directed by teachers, principals or staff. Electronic devices are not allowed to disrupt any educational program or school activity.
Consequences for violating the new cell-phone and digital-device policy are as follows:
First offense — the phone/device is confiscated by a staff member and given to an administrator where the student may pick up the phone at the end of the school day.
Second offense — a parent may pick up the cell phone/device at the end of the school day.
Third offense — the student cannot have a phone or digital device in their possession during school hours. The phone or other electronic device must be left at home or checked into the school office with an administrator before the start of the school day.