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Parents applaud policies restricting cellphone access at Salmon Arm schools

Letter to school district calls for more education around ‘negative consequences’

Parents are applauding steps taken to restrict the use of cellphones in Salmon Arm schools, and would like to see corresponding education around screen-time during school hours.

Over the summer, a letter signed by more than 50 Salmon Arm parents, including 10 doctors, was sent to School District 83 trustees, principals and others. Focused on children’s well-being as it relates to the use of smart phones at schools, the letter’s authors had initially planned to ask that steps be taken at Shuswap Middle School (SMS) and J.L. Jackson Secondary to implement greater restrictions on access. Both of those schools, however, now have their own policies regulating use of electronic devices/cell phones during school hours. Salmon Arm Secondary’s Sullivan campus also has in its Code of Conduct language around cellphone use.

In addition to expressing support of recent steps taken at Jackson and SMS to further restrict smart phone use during school hours, the letters signatories ask “whether students at these schools are being taught about the potential negative consequences of smart phones?”

“We understand that some evening online sessions were offered to parents by the school district on this topic and we were wondering if this could also be extended to students during school hours?” reads the letter.

Available on the J.L. Jackson Secondary website, the school’s Cell Phone Policy forbids cellphone use during instructional time, including in classrooms, the gym, the cafeteria, bathrooms, etc.

“We understand that technology plays an essential role in our lives; however, cell phone use has increasingly become a source of distraction and conflict,” reads the policy, which refers to a 2020 article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that notes how, “in the last decade, increasing mental distress and treatment for mental health conditions among youth in North America has paralleled a steep rise in the use of smartphones and social media by children and adolescents.”

“Unfortunately, when students are using their cell phones during the school day it is rarely for educational purposes,” reads the policy. “By implementing a new cell phone policy for the coming school year, we hope to increase the amount of time students are engaged with their classroom activities and limit the negative impact that cell phones can have on both our students and the culture of our school.”

According to the policy at Jackson, students can use their phones during lunch, but otherwise are expected to keep devices in either their backpack or locker. Teachers may require students to check their phones into a “cell phone locker” at the beginning of class.

The first time a student is found using a cellphone during instructional time, they will be asked to turn it in for safekeeping. If this happens a second time, the cellphone is held at the office until the end of the day and parents are contacted. On the third time, the phone is again held at the office and a parent meeting is scheduled to discuss a plan.

The policy at SMS has some similarities to the one at Jackson, though SMS discourages students from bringing electronic devices to school. If devices are brought to school, from bell-to-bell they “must not be on a student’s person or be visible unless a teacher has given express permission to use it for educational purposes.”

Dr. Kristy Chu, one of the parents who signed the letter, said the science is pretty clear about the negative effects exposure to screens and social media can have on children, as well as the benefits to be had when access is restricted.

Read more: Editorial: Quality time without a screen

Read more:Study links preschool screen time to behavioural and attention problems

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“We have data now to show that kids’ grades go up, children actually start behaving more like children again, using their imaginations, they score higher on wellness, how well they feel, depression, anxiety, that sort of thing,” said Chu, who was pleased to see the new policies at the schools. Chu suggested a focus now should be raising awareness – getting everyone, including educators, on the same page.

“Technology is great, it provides all these things , it saves lives, it enhances health, it provides all these different avenues of education and resources,” said Chu. “But there have been studies that show it has also led to an increase in loneliness, anxiety, depression, addictive behaviours. We have those conversations with our son, but a lot of people don’t, so I think a lot of the parents on that list I believe probably want to see that aspect being put into schools.”

On Sept. 5, B.C. Education Minister Rachna Singh said it will be up to schools to ban cellphones in classrooms. This was in response to a recent decision in Quebec to ban cellular devices in most teaching environments because of their distracting effects — a directive that won’t apply to private schools and allows teachers to use cell phones for teaching purposes only.

“I would say that the decision needs to be made by the teachers in the classrooms, what the needs of the students are, how they can learn in a better way,” said Singh. “So I would definitely leave it to the teachers and the individuals to make that decision.”

While individual SD83 schools have enacted their own policies, the school year has just begun and the school district has not yet initiated a process to develop a district-wide policy. The first school board meeting of the new school year is on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

One of the letter’s authors, Claire Askew, said more parents have since come onboard with the letter, which would be resubmitted to the school district.

With files by Wolf Depner/Black Press Media.

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