Students Receive Mixed Messages from Cell Phone Policy

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Differences in teacher cell phone policies have some students facing conflicting signals
By Julie Khidekel, Feature Editor

Seconds after the lunch bell rings, junior Julia Elliott reaches for one of her most prized possessions; she dutifully checks her cherished phone for text messages, a process that is practically second nature to her.
With the ease and agility of a technology expert, Elliott happily navigates her cell phone. But she, like countless others, doesn’t always wait until class is over, succumbing instead to the siren call of her cell phone.
“Of course I’ve used my cell phone in class before,” says Elliott.
Elliott is not alone; hundreds of students admit to checking these coveted possessions during class, with or without the permission of their teachers. These students face the risk of taking on the school district and suffering the painful consequence of a detention.
According to district policy, students found using cell phones during class must be given a referral and sent to an associate principal’s office. Here, they face punishment in the form of an after-school detention. However, as cell phone policy varies between teachers, some students feel as though teachers are sending them mixed messages, though not by text.
Teachers’ class policies, as well as enforcement, range widely from those who encourage occasional cell phone usage in class to others who automatically write a referral.
“We definitely get mixed messages from teachers regarding the cell phone policy,” said junior Delaney McGuire. “Some teachers allow cell phones in class and others give you a referral. There is no consistency.”
Math teacher Barbara Mochizuki enforces a relatively lenient cell phone policy in class. While Mochizuki punishes repeat offenders, using a cellphone once in class does not typically warrant a referral.
“[Cell phones] have never been a serious issue,” said Mochizuki. “Whenever a student brings them out, I just ask them to put it away. Occasionally it becomes an issue, but not that often.”
The policies of such teachers greatly contrast the policies of instructors like science teacher Lori Tewksbury. Tewksbury takes a take-no-prisoners approach and is quick to punish rulebreakers.
“If a student’s cell phone goes off in class, the cell phone will be taken away and the student will be given a referral, regardless of whether he or she has been using it,” said Tewksbury.
The cell phone policy can become muddled because some teachers allow students to use their cell phones for academic reasons. Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) Superintendent John Nickerson agrees that teachers can occasionally allow cell phones. As students begin to use more technology in the classroom environment, cell phones can be useful tools.
“There might be times when students are working on a project and instead of needing to go to a computer, the teacher gives permission to use their smartphones and they can do research right then and there,” said Nickerson. “I’m sure there are opportunities when teachers will encourage students to use their smartphones, but I know there’s other times where they’ll put them away because they don’t want them to be a disruption or a distraction.”
Such varied policies can lead to inconsistent punishments. While a student may not be penalized for using a cell phone to research a topic pertinent to the class by one teacher, the same student may receive a referral from another teacher.
“There needs to be a uniform cell phone policy for all teachers,” said junior Andrea Mendez. “As high school students, we need teachers to give us concrete rules for what needs to happen, when they don’t. We don’t understand whether we can use our cell phones or not. We just end up getting punished.”
Nevertheless, both administrators and teachers are vigilant about finding students who break the school’s cell phone policy. Teachers like Tewksbury have become adept at spotting student cell phone use in class. Often students will hold phones under their desk in attempt to shield them from the teacher’s view.
“It’s really obvious,” said Tewksbury. “A lot of kids will put two hands on their laps and others will look down. Those are the tell-tale signs.”
Nevertheless, a select few maintain that they can easily peruse their phones during class without any consequences.
“There have been a few times when I’ve used my cell phone in class before,” said junior Amanda Maiken. “Some teachers just make it so easy.”
Associate Principal Carol Ashford supports teacher autonomy when deciding class cell phone policies, despite the district policy guidelines. The office receives approximately four referrals per month and this number has remained relatively unchanged for the past several years.
“Teachers are choosing their level of tolerance,” said Ashford. “[Our district] has the same policy for anything else that happens where teachers are telling someone to be quiet. It’s learning each teacher’s rules and regulations for that class.”
Nickerson concedes that the policy has some ambiguity, but does not feel that it warrants any changes, as there is not a massive increase in the amount of students who receive referrals. It is not likely that the school’s policy will change anytime in the near future.
“I believe the rule is that [cell phones] can’t be a disruption,” said Nickerson. “Teachers are getting more and more flexible to allowing [cell phones] as long as they’re not a disruption.”
Regardless of the fact that there is not an increase of referrals, many students affirm that there is an increase in student cell phone use in class. Most concur that this is due to the increased capabilities that cell phones have today.
“It’s hard for students to go a period without their cell phones in class because students want to see if they have text messages, they want to check Facebook, and they want to check their emails,” said Elliott.
Some even believe that students are virtually incapable of spending a period without their cell phones.
“It’s definitely a challenge to go an entire period with my cell phone,” said Elliott. “I love everything that my cell phone does and you always want to be able to use it.”
That very to be wired in to cell phones leads, in the mind of many students, to one impossible dream.
“I wish the school’s cell phone policy was more relaxed, but I know that that’s not likely to happen,” said sophomore Dana Mason.

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