STAMFORD: Cellphones have been tied to a number of student fights at Stamford schools this year, so officials are now looking at ways to limit how they're used in school buildings.
One thing that is clear, however, is that banning phones from schools is a nonstarter.
"I think we can all agree we do not want to take away the cellphones," said Michael Meyer, the director of family and community engagement for Stamford Public Schools, during the first meeting of a new cellphone policy committee earlier this week.
The committee, composed of students, teachers and administrators, was formed in response to a number of cellphone-related incidents in schools coinciding with an increased level of violence.
Peter Hadley, a music teacher at Cloonan Middle School, said during the meeting that phones have only made school behaviour issues more acute.
"From my experience, virtually every discipline issue that we have been dealing with at school has been exacerbated by cellphones," he said.
The most publicised incident was a violent fight between students at Cloonan, which resulted in one student suffering serious injuries and five students charged for allegedly attacking him. The incident was sparked by social media, according to officials.
Earlier in the school year, Cloonan students also filmed themselves taking part in a TikTok Challenge in which they used their hands to imitate firing a gun, directed at a camera, and posted the video on that popular social media platform.
Stamford High School saw a rash of brawls inside the school to start the school year, many of them filmed and posted online.
Many issues that arise between students over the weekend, Hadley said, can affect school instruction.
"We're finding Monday mornings are one of our tougher times because of what's happened over the weekend on group chats," he said.
The district does not currently have an overarching policy on cellphone usage. Instead, individual schools set their own rules – and even then, enforcement can be varied.
During the meeting, some committee members wondered how much good a cellphone policy would do.
"Banning cellphones isn't really addressing the safety problems like bullying," said student Meher Jain. "It's not the phone that's the problem, it's the action."
Board of Education President Jackie Heftman said the district does have policies that cover bullying. She wondered how the district could effectively restrict cellphone use.
"I don't see how it's going to be possible for us to police every kind of an issue that a child uses a cellphone for, and short of saying, 'You can't have your cellphone out of your backpack during the day', it's going to be very difficult to codify exactly what types of usages we're going to permit and what kind we will not," she said.
Jesse Glaude, a teacher at Westhill High School, said he's the father of a 15-year-old daughter, and he wants her to have a cellphone at her school, to be mostly used for emergencies.
"Even if she never uses it for emergencies ... I don't care, I want her to have a cellphone," he said. "That's something from a parent perspective."
He argued that taking away cellphones wouldn't stop students from sending messages to each other. He said that students could still communicate with each other in school through something they all shared, like a Google document, even if they didn't have their phones.
"Saying that they're messaging each other on their cellphones and taking away cellphones then would be a response," he said. "I just don't think that would work. Policing it like that is not going to work."
The idea to create a cellphone committee came from meetings between members of the Stamford Education Association (Sea) teachers union and Superintendent Tamu Lucero.
During the inaugural Tuesday meeting, members talked about increasing education about digital citizenship, or the responsible use of technology, for students as part of any policy.
John Corcoran, the new president of the Sea who will begin his term at the beginning of July, said the district is not looking at taking phones away from students, but recognised that they do present a safety risk when students use them in improper ways.
"We have to do something," he said.
Drew Denbaum, a teacher at Westhill, said teachers should have the option of having their students put their phones away for the entirety of a class.
But, he said, that won't prevent students from finding ways to secretly covey messages to each other.
"Students back in the 1920s were passing notes to each another," Denbaum said. "Certainly we're not going to restrict communication between students when they want to communicate with each other." – The Stamford Advocate, Conn./Tribune News Service