Students likely to not have phones in class

By Robert Williams

Editor

Frazee-Vergas High School principal Anna Potvin discussed student handbook restrictions on student’s cell phones this coming school year at the most recent school board meeting on Monday, Aug. 8.

“This has been a challenge recently,” she said. “It’s gotten to be more of a challenge each year.”

Potvin held conversations with all of her staff to decide what to do to help curb those challenges, such as kids being distracted by phones in classes, cheating on assessments, and social media behaviors and conversations that were moving in the direction of bullying or online disagreements in chats, photos and other things Potvin noted were getting in the way of learning.

The future changes to the handbook were initiated by staff members and some of those may include when phones can be used, mainly being limited to before and after school and at lunchtime.

Phones can only be checked at other times, while a student is at their locker. The only time students will be allowed to have phones in classrooms is by a teacher’s request for an assignment.

“As staff, we talked about this a lot,” said Potvin. 

Some teachers noted the updated phone policy may change how they operate in class, but a consensus was had on the direction in which the changes were being made.

Smartwatches will be allowed, but not for communications processes.

Earbuds and headphones are also on the list of devices that will only be allowed in the same time frames of cell phones, other than when teachers allow their use.

Potvin stated research was done by reviewing other school’s policies in making the new rules.

Consequences for phone violations were discussed, but after a lengthy discussion with the school board, Potvin is taking the board’s comments on both the policy and consequences back to her discussion group to finalize changes before presenting again to the board for approval next month.

“I know this is going to be challenging,” chairman Thaddeus Helmers said. 

Helmers gave his support for restricting phone use, but acknowledged the difficulties in creating such a policy.

Board member Tyler Trieglaff brought up the possibility of increased thefts from lockers.

Rather than having students storing phones in their lockers, another possibility would be having a collection area in each classroom.

Treasurer Nathan Matejka asked about what would happen in a building-wide emergency.

“We did talk about that and it certainly is a concern,” said Potvin. “Staff will have their phones accessible in their desks and on their classroom phones. We would need to be intentional about teaching kids what to do in case of an emergency if the teacher weren’t available.”

The district has never had a school-wide phone policy prior to this, but staff wanted to have consistency across the board.

“I agree with the no cell phones, but we need a secure way to do it,” said board member Mike Frank.

Superintendent Terry Karger advised Potvin to take the board’s suggestions back to the teachers for an opportunity to examine those thoughts and after discussion enact a policy to be implemented at the beginning of the school year.

Cell phone policies have been trending this way over the past seven years. From 2015 to 2020, schools prohibiting cell phones for non-academic purposes rose from 66 to 77 percent, according to data from the Department of Education. 

A 2020 pediatric study found 96 percent of the high schools and middle schools surveyed had some form of cell phone policy, with 78 percent prohibiting phone use during class time. The same study found a nearly unanimous support of restrictions by teachers across multiple grade levels.

California became the first state to enact a bill granting schools state-backed authority to regulate smartphones during the school day in 2019. Other states have received pushback on setting these types of policies statewide.

The Nebraska state legislature introduced a bill in January that would require students place their phone in a clear, individual storage compartment at the entrance of the classroom for the entirety of the class. That is one option that was discussed at Monday’s school board meeting.

The Nebraska bill was rejected in April. Pennsylvania introduced a similar proposal in July.

Other handbook changes included clarifying an open noon hour for juniors and seniors, although students will not be able to drive their vehicles during that time.

Changes made to disciplinary guidelines were to match verbiage with state-accepted terms.

Project updates

Both the STREAM Lab and high school HVAC/Fire suppression work are scheduled to be completed by Aug. 22, according to Karger.

Parking lots are scheduled to be completed by Aug. 30, including the Elementary Back Parking Lot, High School Student Parking Lot, High School Bus Loading / Unloading Lot and the High School Drop Off / Pick-up Parking Lot.

The remaining projects will continue to be worked upon until winter freeze conditions.

Should crews get enough time to work late into the fall, hopes are to have the track completed in time for competition next spring.