A Lifer’s Thoughts on the New Cell Phone Policy

Lynden Steele '19

As what we at St. Luke’s call a “lifer” – someone who has been here since fifth grade – I remember my excitement to enter high school for two reasons only: coffee and phones, as both were not allowed in middle school. Although there was no clear blueprint for the cell phone restrictions in middle school, I vividly remember filing into Ms. Garnett’s classroom with my classmates at the end of each day to retrieve our confiscated phones from her desk drawer. When summer came to an end and we were all officially high schoolers, I remember how we drank unhealthy amounts of coffee from the cafeteria, despite the fact that many of us hated the taste. While we were unarguably incapable of self-control when it came to coffee, we didn’t really have that issue with our phones. At St. Luke’s, unlike most other schools, students generally don’t go on their phones during class. Since our community places such a large emphasis on respect, we recognize that it is not only distracting, but also rude to blatantly stare at the screen of your cell phone during class.

With that said, last year, we were definitely not expecting for there to be a ban on cell phones for the freshmen. When we discussed the new policy, many agreed that freshmen are mature enough to be able to handle their devices. Since it didn’t involve us upperclassmen, we quickly forgot about it. And in the spring when cell phone restrictions were put in place banning phone use in the lobby and the hallways, we students all groaned and had our occasional run-in with Mr. Davis or Mr. Bavone reminding us to put our phones down while we walked. However, the addition of this rule, while sometimes a little irritating, was definitely not asking a lot from us and didn’t require a huge shift in our behavior. But as the 2017-2018 school year came to a close, the announcement of an all-school “limited access cell phone policy” shook the student body.

The policy, which was rolled out in an email to parents last May, has been justified by the administration with the use of “growing research that phones detract from our ability to focus on each other and the work at hand.” The message can be accessed here.

As the third week of school comes to a close, reactions to the policy by both teachers and students have been at both ends of the spectrum. Upper School English teacher Mrs. Sproule comments that she “absolutely supports” the new policy, and hopes that it “inspires new social norms.” Mrs. Sproule further remarks that “just as [she doesn’t] want electronics at the dinner table at home because they create a barrier and a distraction,” she also prefers not to have phones in her classroom or in shared spaces at school because they often “take away from our community and time together.” Mrs. Sproule confides that she has absolutely noticed a positive change in the classroom in the absence of phones, adding that “no matter how responsible students are about the use of phones, just the mere presence can be a distraction,” thus she has “appreciated [the] distraction being eliminated.” Students who have reacted positively to the rule find themselves socializing with friends much more frequently and with much less homework to complete at home, a consequence of more productive free periods.

But the St. Luke’s community is definitely not all in agreement over the policy. Many students dislike the policy because they consider it to be too intrusive. Common complaints include being unable to listen to music on phones, trouble remembering meetings without alerts that come up on phones, and tardies to class since most people do not wear watches. Michael Pizzani ‘19 remembers the joys of spending a week without his phone at school last year; however, he believes that the policy is too controlling and would like to be able to make the choice of whether or not to use his device during the school day.

Beyond the student body, not all of the faculty is united in absolute favor of the rule. Mr. Bavone, who ironically confiscated my phone shortly before my correspondence with him, appeared initially skeptical of the new rule, but notes that, “Now that the policy has been enacted, I do indeed support it. Not because I believe it is the best method in theory but because it may prove to be the best in practice.” He went on to address the association between technology use and maturity, explaining that he “[subscribes] to the research done on the adolescent brain that tells us, in short, [that] the decision making zones of the brain do not mature until late teens at best… In a perfect (most likely unattainable) world, students would be barred from having their devices completely until they are mature enough to make an informed decision. The problem here is that this happens at different times for different people, and a system to track and enforce this would be untenable.”

When asked to share his personal opinion about the policy, Mr. Bavone touched upon a topic that many students use while arguing against the rule: learning how to manage distractions. “What I worry about in the current system is that prohibition will… not help students learn how to manage their phone as a source of possible distraction. Therefore, we are not providing an opportunity for this type of learning and it will have to happen outside of SLS.” Finally, he addressed the potency of the rule, asserting that “the culture and community are better when face-to-face interaction increases,” yet added that it is not “effective in teaching strategies for dealing with personal distraction,” an area where we will all “likely get little to no guidance… in college and beyond.”

As for me, while I don’t find myself completely distraught with anxiety when separated from my phone, I definitely think that as high schoolers (especially seniors) we should first be granted the opportunity to show that we are able to handle our devices responsibly. Without my phone, I often find myself walking into class late or missing scheduled meetings due to the fact that I do not wear a watch and cannot access my phone reminders.

On a more serious note, in a time when school shootings are in the headlines almost every day, I can’t help but worry that I won’t be able to say goodbye to my family and friends if, god forbid, a shooter came into the school. For the opportunity to be able to tell my family and friends that I love them in an emergency, I would gladly face any consequences that come with breaking the (old, but missed) rules regarding phone use in the lobby and hallways.

Especially for us seniors, many of us who are eighteen years old, why is it that we are allowed to be charged as an adult, vote for president, enlist in the army, even buy an AR-15, but cannot walk around school with phones in our hand?