Cell phones photo by Angela Denning/KFSK

Cell phones in school—that was the most talked about subject during the last Petersburg School Board meeting. Board members and school administrators discussed cell phone use in all three of the local schools and the district’s policy. Administrators say there isn’t a problem. Still, the school board wants to hear more feedback from the teachers. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

More teenagers and children are using cell phones now than a decade ago. School districts are trying to keep up with the technology, both restricting its use and using it for educational purposes.  

So, how much is enough and how much is too much?

School board member, Cheryl File, brought the issue to the meeting.

“To talk about it,” said File, “to see what teachers thought, parents thought, admin thought and students thought about the cell phones because they are distracting.”

The district’s cell phone policy prohibits the use in both the elementary and middle schools. Cell phone use in the high school depends on the teacher.

Rae C. Stedman Elementary Principal Heather Conn says she hasn’t had any problems with cell phones at the grade school and hasn’t even seen one this year. At the middle school phones can be taken away, says Principal Rick Dormer.

“If we hear them or see them, even if it’s sticking out of your pocket or sticking out of your backpack on the side or something, if it’s out, if you see it, then teachers usually just take it for that period and then give it back,” Dormer said. “Then there’s a progression, if you see it again the student will take it and keep it in the office and have a parent pick it up, which happens every now and then but it’s not that common.”

If students are sick or need to reach their parents during school they are supposed to use the school’s phone.

Dormer says cell phones haven’t been an issue at the high school either. The school’s policy allows teachers to decide how they’ll handle cell phone use in their classrooms. He says some teachers use them as a tool like in photography class.

“We can’t keep up with the cost of cameras and so they use their cell phones,”Dormer said. “I saw them outside doing some cool stuff and so that’s a class where it can be really useful and I know they use them that way. There’s a lot of uses for them.”

Dormer says they have started to discuss having stronger cell phone limitations with freshman students to help them transition to more freedom in high school.

Student Representative for the school board, Maria Pfundt, says as a freshman, she probably wouldn’t have minded restrictions. But now as a senior, a cell phone ban–even a temporary one–would be a hardship.

“I have a lot more calls with coaches and colleges and things that I just can’t miss, or it feels like I can’t miss,” Pfundt said, “and there’s like time differences so it’s just hard to say you cannot use your phone from 8 to 3 because…”

“But there’s email,” said board member, Sarah Holmgrain.

“Yes,” said Pfundt. “But a lot of coaches don’t like email because it’s very impersonal and they’re trying to build a relationship with you and also with school counselors, it’s just easier for them to communicate through phone calls and get things done.”

Responding to adults’ phone calls and texts is part of the equation, says School Board President, Mara Lutomski. She says parents, in particular, need to have an awareness of their children’s schedules.

“As parents we also need to regulate ourselves as to how fast our kids need to get back to us or how fast they need to know this information,” she said.

Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter says administration is following the best advice they can find on technology which includes the “Wait until 8th” movement. That encourages parents to wait until their kids are at least in the 8th grade before getting them a smart phone. Eventually, she says, students need to learn how to manage their devices and practice cell phone etiquette.

“Time and place, which is something that adults have to deal with too,” Kludt-Painter said. “So, working with kids especially as they’re getting older and becoming juniors and seniors, they’re going to be needing to navigate that in their next post-secondary life.”

The District’s Technology Director, Jon Kludt-Painter, encourages parents to reach out to him or school administrators to find out what parent controls are available for cell phones and computers.

“We are resources here too and there are lots of applications that are built around supporting parents,” Kludt-Painter said. “There are lots of solutions on the market right now that will filter different age groups, different pieces of technology, and I’m happy to sit down with families and discuss those.”

Lutomski says parent controls are important but so is parents talking to their children about appropriate phone use.

“There’s always going to be a way for your child to get around anything,” said Lutomski. “The internet will teach them how to get around all those things that you are putting into place.”

Even though school administrators don’t think there is a problem with phones in school, one high school teacher disagrees. Art teacher, Ashley Lohr, spoke to the school board about her concerns. She says she’d like to see a more detailed cell phone policy put into place because the phones are a distraction for students.

“Whether it’s right there on their desk it’s a distraction. They’re picking it up, moving from one space to another, it’s constantly right there,” Lohr said. “So, I see that as an issue and it distracts them from the education piece but also the isolating; there’s studies showing that there’s links to stress levels and anxiety and more counseling needed.”

The school board says they want to hear from more teachers about cell phones. They’ve decided to send the issue to the board’s policy committee to pursue.