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Bristle at Cellphone Policy

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 12:15

The argument over cellphones as either distractions or useful educational tools for students has divided some at the Bridgehampton School.

The school district changed its policy this year to mandate that students keep their cellphones in their lockers except at lunchtime, when they may be used. Previously, students could have their cellphones with them throughout the day but could only use them with teacher permission.

The change isn’t sitting well with students, according to Julian Cheng, a Bridgehampton senior.

“I feel it has been problematic to students but also to the educational process,” Julian said by phone this week. “There are so many ways that we can make it easier to learn — taking pictures of homework on the board or of a page in the book, even accessing documents.”

He spoke at two recent school board meetings, imploring the administration and board members to reconsider the decision, which came at the start of the school year as a result of updates made to the official code of conduct. Julian said many students share his opinion.

Board members responded by saying they are open to the idea of adjusting the policy again, but that it would have to come as an official recommendation from the district’s policy committee. Any changes to the code of conduct would have to have a formal public hearing.

“I think it’s great to have students engaged in class learning without their phones,” said Michael Miller, the school principal. “We value students and community input. We’ll bring that input to the policy committee, which can have a discussion.”

Julian said students should be allowed to have their phones as a lesson in how to use cellphones in moderation.

“If you have a zero tolerance policy, how are you supposed to be prepared for the next step of life?” he said. “You have to learn how to use them responsibly and not just use them whenever you want. If we have access to them now, and learn how to use them responsibly now, then we won’t have that problem later.”

But Mr. Miller said his own recommendation would be to keep the new policy in place.

“We’ve had little to no cellphone issues in the school district this year and I’d like to think that was because of the policy requiring the phones to be in lockers,” he said. “That distraction is mitigated because they don’t have them on them.”

At East Hampton High School, students can take their phones and other electronic devices with them but they can only be used in classrooms for instructional purposes with the teacher’s permission. Students have to put their phones in bins before class begins, and can pick them up after the class ends. Kids can use their phones in the hallways, cafeteria, and during study halls. East Hampton High School prohibits earbuds and headphones in the hallways for safety reasons.

East Hampton Middle School has a policy that says students can keep their phones with them during the school day but must keep them “completely hidden from sight in a pocket or backpack . . . or in their school lockers.”

The school “appreciates the parental belief that students’ possession of cellphones enhances their safety and security,” the policy reads. “The school determines, however, that student misuse of cellphones and other similar electronic devices may: undermine the learning environment, pose a safety hazard during announcements or emergencies, disrupt academic instruction and distract students, compromise the integrity of student testing, increase disciplinary problems . . .” and cause other issues.

In Sag Harbor, a policy adopted last December prohibits Pierson High School students from “display[ing] or us[ing] . . . personal electronic devices, such as, but not limited to, cellphones, iPods, [and] digital cameras, in a manner that is in violation of district policy,” which is outlined in detail in the school code of conduct. Teachers are authorized to confiscate cellphones or other personal devices if the student is found breaking the rules. The rules for Pierson Middle School students are similar to those at East Hampton Middle School.

In other news, Mr. Miller also recently announced that the Bridgehampton School has been approved by the College Board, which facilitates SAT exams and Advanced Placement programs nationally, to offer the A.P. Capstone program. A.P. Capstone is a more comprehensive version of advanced classes that includes a greater emphasis on research and writing.

Offering the program would mean adding more A.P. classes at Bridgehampton, which would in turn increase staff needs that is why it’s dependent on the approval of next year’s school budget, Mr. Miller said.

A.P. Capstone is regarded as being on the level of — and somewhat in competition with — the International Baccalaureate program, a rigorous course of study that is offered locally at Pierson High School.

The program is “pending school board approval,” Mr. Miller said. “We’re excited about it.”

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