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    Sunday, September 24, 2023

    Turn off the cellphones in class

    Less than a generation ago cellphones were considered a nice-to-have luxury. Now, however, they are a ubiquitous, multi-use technological necessity that even young children own.

    As these powerful, pocket-sized computers quickly became so common that they sometimes now seem almost an extension of our own hands, school officials grappled with how much, or even whether, their use among students should be regulated or limited.

    East Lyme became one of the most recent school districts to announce new, tighter regulations of the devices. High school students now are limited to using their cellphones, smart watches and earbuds only during lunch, passing time between classes and flexible study hall. During class time, cellphones must be turned off or silenced and stored in backpacks or special pockets provided by teachers.

    East Lyme’s rules are similar to those instituted in numerous other Connecticut school districts, including Norwich, Branford, Windsor Locks and Torrington.

    We agree such regulations are both necessary and commonsense. Cellphones, unless they are being used for specific educational purposes, pose a huge distraction in the classroom and also are too often used in nefarious ways by students.

    While there’s no doubt the devices are vital communication tools, providing a direct link between students and parents in the event of emergencies, they also have become powerful weapons used to perpetrate acts of vandalism, bullying and harassment. Last year, for example, many school districts paid considerable amounts of money on repairs following a social media craze encouraging children and teenagers to damage their school bathrooms. Students changing clothes for gym classes or sports practices also have been photographed or filmed in bathrooms or locker rooms. Images of them in a compromised state are then shared digitally and used as tools of harassment and humiliation by classmates.

    In videos posted on the website of the National Bullying Prevention Center, operated by a Minneapolis-based organization called Pacer, middle school students are asked to name their least favorite thing about the internet and social media. Without hesitation, most say the way the internet is used to make fun of, spread rumors about and harass other students is their least favorite aspect of the digital world.

    In addition, Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center website cites a 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System report that indicated nearly 16% of high school students were electronically bullied in the year prior to the survey.

    Notably, the survey dates to a pre-pandemic year. The use of digital devices and time spent online increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic. We fear more current surveys may show cyberbullying has also increased.

    While we support the limitation of cellphones by students during school hours, we also recognize enforcing these regulations may be a burden for teachers. Students have become masterful in finding ways to surreptitiously use their cellphones. Playing the role of phone police could be a time consuming headache for teachers. This makes it particularly important for school administrators to work as a team with teachers to educate students about the need for the regulations and also to enforce the rules.

    If school cellphone regulations succeed at preventing students from being cyberbullied and digitally harassed, the benefits of placing limitations on these devices will be well worth the aggravation of enforcement.

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