This year, the Nantucket HIgh School administration has made a major change in student cell phone policy. Principal Dr. John Buckey articulated the new policy clearly: “we expect students to keep their phones off and away every class every day.” Like any change that is made to student handbook, the decision was made by Buckey, Assistant Principal John Lucchini, and the School Council.
Thus far, the policy has proven to be unpopular with students. “I dislike the cell phone policy and feel that in most cases, it is not necessary,” said senior KD Tornovish. “I never had an issue with cell phone usage in classes in the past, and I think that teachers and students respected themselves enough to listen to one another and ask before using a cell phone. Now, teachers demand to see cell phones in the box or caddy, which takes time time out of class, as all students have to then get up and put their phones away. It’s a little thing, but that time adds up. I would rather see teachers expecting that students wouldn’t have their phones out during class because they want to learn and be respectful, yet I can understand that in some classes that just wouldn’t happen.”
Likewise, senior Emily Ballinger questioned whether such an extreme policy was necessary. “Personally, I don’t like the cell phone policy,” she said. “I think students should be asked to keep phones away during classes with the risk of having them taken away if they are caught using them in class. I think it is more of a hassle to take time away from class to collect and distribute phones at the beginning and end of class. Students should be responsible enough to keep phones out of sight during classes.”
However, administrators had a plethora of reasons and concerns why they felt justified such a major policy change. Buckey, who has been principal at NHS for nine years, explained the evolution of cell phone policies during his time.“In my first couple of years at the school, the policy was you can’t have your cell phone at all,” he explained. “This evolved into a policy where if a teacher caught you on your phone first the student would be warned, and if they were caught again, the students phone would be taken away. The school policy changed because as cell phone technologies advanced and prices increased, it became more difficult for the school to take away students phones for any significant period of time.”
Therefore, for several years, the school's policy was that students were allowed to have their phones on them during class as long as they did not cause any distractions. Yet during this time, Buckey noticed that “cell phones in classrooms cultivated a negative environment between students and teachers.”
As a result, Buckey and other school administrators sought out and attended seminars where they asked teachers from other schools what they were doing about cell phones. “We considered several different policies including a lunch only policy as well as one that was based almost entirely off of teacher's discretion,” said Buckey. For a short period of time, NHS adopted this policy, and cellphone use was based largely on teacher discretion. However during this period, there was an uptick in phones used for in school bullying or social media purposes. There were specific instances of students taking snapchats of other students and writing unflattering messages. Some teachers also noticed their students leaving class to go to the bathroom more frequently.
Overall, the response from faculty has been positive. Math teacher Paul Buccieri said, “I think the new policy is fantastic. I think it's even a good policy for teachers to have because even if you just have your phone in your pocket you want to check it every once in awhile.”
While some teachers noted that many students do not place their phones in the boxes or caddies, others have had few problems. Buccieri reported a notably high level of student participation in his classes claiming that “at least over ¾ of students in my classes are using the caddies. We have a sign on the door and on the wall reminding students to hand in their phones.” In the first 10 weeks of school, Buccieri said that he only had to “take phones away from student’s twice.”
Others, like math teacher Darren Lucas, reported lower levels of participation as “only half of the students are putting their phones in the caddies in my classes.”
Despite that, he said that, “while not all students are putting their phones in the caddy, I don’t see the other half. The main goal is cell phones off and away every class every day. All the teachers I have spoke to agree that even if the kids are not putting their phones in the caddy they are not using them.”
He believes that some students are reluctant to turn in their phones because they feel it gives them a sense of control. “I think students think the phone is their property so they feel they should always be able to have it,” he said. “I know how it feels to not have your phone on you - you just freak out.”
Yet despite less than perfect results, Lucas is impressed with how the student body has responded to the policy. “I think the students have done a very good job keeping their phones away,” he said. “There are certain times in the day when you can use them, we just have to learn when those times are.”
Enforcement of the policy, however, has proven more difficult in some areas of the school than others. For instance, Head Librarian Maggie Sullivan said, “while I understand the rationale behind the policy - to get students focused on their learning, I think the library can be more difficult environment to enforce the rule. I think most students follow the rule as far as not using their cellphones during school. I think many students are reluctant to surrender their cell phone because it is an expensive piece of equipment.” She went on to say that she is constantly questioning students about the whereabouts of their phones - and finding that she may not always be getting a straight answer. “I think after the first couple weeks of school, students learned that they could say ‘no, I don’t have my phone’ and get around the policy,” she said.
Students dodging the policy has brought up the question of how far teachers can and should go to enforce it. Sullivan explained her approach to policy enforcement: “I first remind students to turn in their phones when they enter the library. If I see it after I’ve already warned them about their phone then I bring it into the office. There is only so much you can do.” Despite the difficult task of enforcement, Sullivan said that “last year there were definitely more students using their phones in the library.” Sullivan added, “I think to understand the success of the this rule you have to understand why we have rules. We have rules to provide a better environment for the students who don’t care become more focused on their classes. Rules are always designed to provide continuity and an optimal learning environment for all students.”
However, some students feel the policy is being over-enforced. Ballinger recalled one instance when she had my phone taken away when she was holding it while walking down the hall. “This made me angry because after getting my phone back at the end of class,” she said. “I did not have time to put it in my bag on the way to my next class. Therefore, I held it as I walked….and as a result, I had my phone confiscated for the rest of the day.” Senior Fernando Young also commented on the policy saying, “high achieving students don’t have the time to look down and check our phones during A.P. classes. Therefore, I think this policy hurts the students who are actually using their phones for research purposes. It only affects me negatively now that it takes me longer to conduct research, as any laptop is not as portable as a cell phone. It’s a shame that that the few who use cell phones irresponsibly ruin it for the many.”
Overall, Buckey reports to having received very low levels of push back concerning this policy, and he feels it has been well received by the community. Notably, he has received no push back from parents. “I received several emails in English and Spanish telling me that they thought the policy was a great idea,” he said. “The only teacher push back was on ‘what ifs’ and how far they have to go to enforce the new policy. The one student concern came from someone who claimed that their phone had been stolen from the caddy. However, I assume this issue resolved itself as I never heard anymore about it. I think that is pretty good considering we are 10 weeks into the year and that is the only concern we have so far.” Furthermore, Buckey appeared to be proud about the success the policy has had in accomplishing its main goal of preventing phones from being a distraction in class. “We created a power dynamic where even if students didn’t turn their phones into the caddies, they were less likely to take them out in class for fear of breaking two disciplinary issues,” he said. However, as the year progresses, Buckey wants to remind the faculty and student body that this policy will “only be as effective as its enforcement. If all teachers do not participate in the policy, students quickly figure out where they can break the rule and check snapchat. In order for it to work, we all have to participate... this is not a half sum proposition.”
Despite some early student concerns and frustrations, the overall sentiment on the new cell phone policy seems positive. Always with an eye to the future, the school administration continues to stay open to making policy changes to some of the most controversial school issues, including cell phones, dress code, hats, attendance, and tardies. These issues continue to come up because, according to Buckey, “every school is always trying to come up with a better mouse trap. Usually, these policies work well for a certain period of time and then have to be changed.” Buckey suggested that it is very possible that the cell phone policy will change again in future years with new technological advances. “What will happen when Apple announces that they can turn your phone into a microprobe?” he asked. “Will we still ban cell phones? That is just the way trends in education and technology go.”