New Phone Policy at Somerset Berkley

Ryan Rose, Co-Editor

For the past few years at Somerset Berkley, school policies surrounding student cell phones within the classroom have been rather lax. Students were often encouraged to not have them out during class time and were instructed to put them away frequently, but a universal policy throughout the building was hardly enforced and each teacher tended to have their own varying ways of dealing with students’ cellphones in the classroom. As students know, administration has introduced a new policy this year that greatly changes all of that.

The current policy for students with cell phones at the school requires students to place their cell phones in a “phone tree” at the start of class and to keep it there until that class is over. Students are not allowed to bring their phones with them if they go to use the restroom, but are allowed to use them during lunch or during the passing periods. If students are seen with a cell phone during class time, teachers have been instructed to confiscate the phone without warning. If students refuse to give their cell phone to their teacher, they receive a conduct referral and face potential consequences from the office. 

Dr. Brelsford, the school principal, has stated that this has always been the policy, but that “it was enforced by some [teachers], and not by others. This year, we set an expectation that everyone would follow the expectations of the cell phone policy.” While this has always been the policy, Dr. Brelsford has explained that the reason it is now being universally enforced is due to recent occurrences of “vaping issues, hallways being crowded during class times, people meeting up in the restrooms/hallways during class time, and phones being an overall distraction in the classroom.” 

Most teachers seem to agree with this “new” policy. One teacher stated that as a result of its enforcement, “students are more engaged and less distracted during class time” and another commented that students are even “talking to each other in the classroom more” in ways that are helping to promote learning. Teachers agree that the policy has been largely effective as well. Another teacher remarked that “not every student is using the holder, but they know that if it is on their person, I have the right to take it.” As a result of this, the teacher claims that they have yet to have an issue with someone breaking the phone policy. 

One thing commonly heard from students, and even a teacher, is the question of whether or not there should be times when students should be allowed to use their phones in the classroom. It has been asked if students are allowed to use their phones to take a picture of the white board, to record a project, to retrieve something they have stored on their phone for the class, or in similar situations where the usage of their personal device would benefit their learning. One teacher claims that they do not wish to change the rules and aim to fully comply with the policy put out by administration, but that they believe “we need to recognize that at very well defined times a phone might be necessary.”

Students have been less receptive to this policy. Multiple students have communicated that they feel as though they are being punished by having to put their phones in the holders, even though they have never violated the Somerset Berkley phone policy. Another student referred to the school’s vision of the graduate acronym when asking me the rhetorical question, “How am I supposed to be a respectful and independent digital citizen if I can’t even be trusted to keep my phone in my bag?” On a similar note, one student has referred to the policy as “rather elementary” and another has expressed “it’s just sad that it’s come to this point where we have to put our phones in a holder and tell our computers when we need to use the bathroom”, referring to both the cell phone policy and the new usage of e-hallpasses.

Another issue that a student communicated was that they were fearful their phone could end up stolen while in the phone tree and that they would not be able to afford to just get another one. Because of this, I asked Dr. Brelsford what would happen if a phone were stolen or somehow damaged while within a phone tree as implemented by the school. I, too, was curious if the school would be liable for the funding to get a replacement phone or if the students themselves would be. Dr. Brelsford responded that “We did ask our custodians to install the phone trees so that they are secure and teachers to have ways to ensure safety when using the phone tree… we have not had any issues to date with this.”