Columbia Valley Pioneer staff

Students in Rocky Mountain School District No. 6 would do well to start preparing, at least psychologically, to have their cell phone use restricted this fall.

The unavoidable new mandate from the Ministry of Education has reached second reading at the local board table and will come into effect in September as part of the updated “code of conduct” for students.

Under 2.7 of the code, it is acknowledged that smart phones, smart watches and listening devices are used as “tools of learning and inclusion,” but that such devices should not impede or interrupt learning time in the classroom.

All schools will restrict the use of digital devices in class except where the teacher requests their use for instructional purposes or a student requires the device for medical needs or learning accommodations.

Each school will determine how these devices are restricted, and students will be responsible for storing and securing their devices if they bring them to school.

One individual who commented on the board’s proposed changes to the code stated that the wording is so “vague” that the potential for an ineffective policy is high.

“Appreciating that this is a complex issue, it still seems that coming out with a strong policy from the start would be most desirable.”

The individual, whom the board did not identify, said the local policy seems to pass the onus on to individual schools. “I feel that stronger guidance from the district would create more cohesiveness.” 

The other aspect the person challenged was how these devices can be used as tools of inclusivity when not all students will have access to phones.

Doug Murray, president of Local #4 (teachers’ union), told the Pioneer that teachers favour the proposed restrictions but want clear communication from the district and school administrators on what the new rules will look like  . . . and the consequences for students who refuse to adhere to them.

“We don’t want to see it just fall on teachers to enforce,” he said.

Murray said teachers would also like to see an investment in technology so that personal devices are not needed for digital literacy lessons.

In a supportive guide being used by the district, it addresses accommodations for medical and health needs. For example, using a digital device to monitor blood/sugar levels for a student with diabetes, or accommodating language disorders.

A recent academic paper reviewed by the board says removing cell phones from the classroom would likely reduce students’ temptation to play games, surf the Internet, and text their friends, therefore enhancing their ability to focus on their studies.