CELLPHONES-SCHOOLS (copy)

Students at West Frederick Middle School will be required to keep their cell phones off and away this upcoming school year.

Students at West Frederick Middle School will be required to keep their cell phones “off and away” this upcoming school year.

In a “Find Out First” email to parents July 25, principal Patti Barnes alerted families to the new policy.

“After several conversations with various community members, staff, other FCPS administrators and parents, we made the decision to go to no cell phones during this year,” Barnes said in the email. “Students will be permitted to bring cell phones to school; however ... students will not be permitted to carry their cell phones with them to class or to use them throughout the school day, this includes during lunch/recess.”

Barnes, who is entering her second year at West Frederick Middle School after leaving Spring Ridge Elementary School in 2018, said the decision came after a request from school team leaders during a summer retreat.

In previous years, West Frederick students have been allowed to use devices during lunch or recess but Barnes said the increased use of social media and the ability of phones to access online content had become too much of a disturbance.

“Phones cause a degree of distraction ... students are focusing on ‘I need to answer this text’, ‘I didn’t get likes on this,’” Barnes said.

Tom Saunders, instructional director for FCPS middle schools, agreed.

“While the student is in a classroom, we want them fully engaged on what the teacher is presenting and the phone becomes a distraction,” Saunders said.

Barnes added that students today are so focused on their devices that relationship building is hindered.

“[Phones are] another barrier to in-person communication ... I hope this helps students learn to be present,” Barnes said.

Principals across the school system can dictate what their school’s cell phone policy is, and according to Saunders, West Frederick’s new policy is not out of the norm.

Saunders said more and more schools are turning to “off and away” policies. In the past, many middle schools allowed students to bring devices to school as an extra learning tool, but now with the high access to Chromebook laptops in the county, students’ personal devices are not needed, Saunders said.

“Every single middle school kid now has access to a Chromebook ... with that the duplication of a cell phone, you don’t have kids using a cell phone as an instructional tool, whereas three or four years ago, we did,” Saunders said.

The new policy at West Frederick was met with mixed responses from parents, according to Barnes.

“Some parents said, ‘Oh Miss Barnes I could hug you’...some didn’t agree with it...[but] we felt like [the policy] was in the best interest of the school,” Barnes said.

The biggest concern from parents seems to be the inability to have immediate access to their child in an emergency.

“I think there are more concerns about safety and where my kid is just with the environment we’re currently in,” Saunders said.

Barnes agreed but said if a student needs to get in touch with a family member during the day, they can communicate that need with any adult in the school building and staff will work to make sure the call is made.

The new policy will take effect on the first day of school and students are encouraged to keep cell phones in their lockers. According to Barnes’ email, if students are found using their cell phones in a manner that is not allowed, the phone will be sent to the main office and the student may pick it up at the end of the day. After the first incident, parents or guardians will be required to pick up the device at the end of the school day.

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill.

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