Schools grapple with cellphone use policies

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Most students in Vermont are going back to school this week, but in some cases, one thing not going with them is their cellphone. Middle and high schools are taking steps to manage cellphone usage in the classrooms, and in some cases, on school grounds.

It's no secret that cellphones are a distraction, and different schools are trying different things to get students to put them down. Last year Essex Middle School banned usage of cellphones from the beginning of school at 8:05 a.m. to the end of the day at 3:15 p.m.

At Colchester High School each teacher sets their own classroom rules about cellphone use. Principal Heather Baron understands why some schools ban phones, but her school has taken the opportunity to make it a lesson in human interaction. "Rather than say just black and white -- no cellphones -- we wanted to help them navigate the world of having a device and when it's appropriate to have it out and when it's not respectful to have it out," Baron said.

Teachers at Colchester High School use different methods to keep cellphones out of the hands of kids in classes. Some teachers call them "cellphone jail," "cellphone daycare," or even "Alcatraz."

"We have a teacher who has a case that students can put their phones in that she's labeling the hotel. Kids can check their cell phones in and out of the hotel," Baron said.

Don Tinney with the Vermont National Education Association says everyone needs to instill social skills surrounding cell phone usage in our students. "Our lives are lived in relationship to other people, therefore anything that gets in the way of that relationship is going to hinder our relationship as human beings. How do you develop a friendship if he or her is always on their phone?" Tinney said.

So how are parents reacting to schools ruling out phones in classrooms? "I like the fact that they have them in case of an emergency or if they feel they need to get a hold of me, they can. However, other than that, they don't need to be playing games or texting their friends during class," said Brett Williger, a father.

"I think it is a wonderful idea that kids not be allowed to use cellphones in class. I think they're a distraction," said Mary Charlebois, a grandmother.

"I think kids should have to turn their phones in before they walk into the school. I think they should put them on a little hook. I know some schools do this across the country. I don't think phones should be allowed in school at all," said Robert Caneco, a father.

And surprisingly, not all students we spoke with are mad about the change. Camden Chiari and Tushar Asthana, South Burlington High School seniors, said they feel free from the stress their phones can cause and they're more focused on learning now. "I was slightly annoyed, but then I figured it will probably be good for most students to have them away," Asthana said.

"Yeah, I believe it's good for our generation to get off our phones and I think it's good to get the focus out, and I think some kids will definitely be annoyed by it, but in the grand scheme of things it's going to be really great and do a lot of good things for us," added Chiari.

The Vermont NEA hopes to gather statistics and compare schools' solutions to phone usage to find what ways work best in the classroom.