|Mount Greylock Begins Talk of Curtailing Cell Phone Use|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
05:39AM / Saturday, August 24, 2019
|A Mount Greylock Regional School student checks her cell phone during Tuesday evening's preseason meeting for sports teams.|
The Mount Greylock Regional School Council convenes on Tuesday afternoon at the middle-high school.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional School is considering a rule change that will promote talking instead of texting.
The middle-high school's School Council on Tuesday discussed modifications to the handbook that would curtail student use of cell phones during school hours.
It was the first time the council has looked at the issue, and any change likely could not be in place before the 2020-21 academic year.
But council members generally were receptive to a proposal from parent Nicole Anagnos of Williamstown, who asked to address the body.
"I've been starting to reach out to parents," Anagnos said. "Based on that, I've put together points why we might want to limit cell phone use. The proposal would be to eliminate use from 7:40 a.m. to 2:27 p.m. It's not saying cell phones aren't allowed. … They can be in [students'] bags. But they wouldn't be actively using cell phones during the day.
Anagnos argued that cell phone usage distracts students from their classroom work, contributes to anxiety and becomes a substitute for real life interpersonal communication.
"Allow the school to be a cell phone free place," she said. "I was reading that kids tend to be more worried and hesitant about doing things because they're afraid of being caught on film. This is true. People are sharing things all the time, and it's constant.
"If they have that safe time frame. It would be a relief."
Anagnos said that even if students follow a teacher's instruction and put their phone to sleep during class, the buzzing and vibration from near constant notifications can be a distraction in the classroom.
"We know that less screen time is better," she said. "If there is any chance to remove some of that from their day, we should do so."
But Anagnos said her bigger worry is outside the classroom, including a 12-minute morning break between second and third periods and lunch.
"Students are choosing to be on their phones instead of communicating with others at lunch and in the hallway," she said.
Mount Greylock's director of academic technology attended the council meeting to speak to the cell phone agenda item and said she was in accord with Anagnos.
Eileen Belastock told the council that she has seen studies that have found students who use cell phones more often are less likely to be effective note-takers.
"I totally see where you're coming from," Belastock said. "I think because everyone is so digitally distracted, students aren't performing as well. … Academically and from a social/emotional standpoint, this is causing our students a lot of problems."
Matt Fisher, a faculty representative on the School Council, said his perception is that the majority of the school's discipline problems involve a cell phone in one way or another and that using the devices leads to shorter attention spans.
"It is an addiction," Fisher said. "Responsible use [of cell phones] is a cool idea, but it's like 'responsible use' of cocaine. Eventually, you get addicted."
Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald, who co-chairs the School Council, clarified that the current handbook says students should not use their cell phones in class unless asked to by a teacher — for example, to use the stopwatch function in a science lab.
"Our basic policy is, unless a teacher asks you to use them, you don't," MacDonald said, adding that students can — and do — use phones in the hallway and during breaks.
Anagnos said she had not heard from anyone who objected to the idea of cutting back, but she knows there will be objections raised. Some students, she noted, take a photo of the whiteboard in the classroom to get their homework, others use the phone to stay in touch with their families during the day.
She said the former issue could be resolved by teachers making a point to take a photo of the assignment and email it to students in the class. Families, in an actual emergency, can use the method that families have used for generations: calling the main office.
Plus, Anagnos noted, families still could communicate with students via email, which students can access through their school-issued Chromebooks.
The admittedly small sample of students who serve on the School Council were generally receptive to the idea of cutting back on students' use of cell phones.
Oscar Low said he agreed the devices do limit student engagement but worried about the unintended consequences of not allowing students to use their phones to listen to music, as he does during the day.
Lucy Shepard said she has an app on her phone that cuts down on screen time in order to avoid the kind of addiction Fisher fears. But a prohibition may not be a panacea.
"I just was thinking that in classes where teachers are already saying, 'Put the phone in the bag,' kids are finding ways to get distracted on the Chromebook," said Shepard, a rising senior. "Any way they can zone out for a couple of seconds, they'll find it. There's no doubt in my mind the level of distraction will be lowered without phones in class, but it won't be completely eliminated."
Ultimately, a change in the handbook on cell phone usage during school hours would need to be approved by the School Committee.
The School Council is responsible for drafting a handbook to send to the committee for approval. The profiles have been raised for the councils at Mount Greylock, Lanesborough Elementary and Williamstown Elementary since the advent of full regionalization. Though each school had a council when it operated as an independent school district, the council now is an important venue to advocate for individual school needs in the regional framework, where one committee of seven governs all three schools.
MacDonald was clear at the outset of Tuesday's meeting that she did not expect the School Council to take any action other than to open a dialogue that she hopes will draw a variety of stakeholders, including students.
Council member Andrea Malone, a Williamstown parent, said there could be valid arguments on either side of the question that the council has not thought of.
The council Tuesday unanimously sent a draft revised handbook to the School Committee that includes no new language on the use of electronic devices. But the council did revise its School Improvement Plan to include a goal to evaluate the cell phone policy and, if appropriate, craft new language to bring to the School Committee by March 2020.
In other business, the council discussed how to fill a couple of vacancies in its ranks. Noting that it has a vacancy for a parent representative and currently has two Williamstown parents, Malone recommended that the council make an appeal for Lanesborough parents who are interested in serving.