School officials welcome new cell phone rules

GUYSBOROUGH — Local principals are applauding a new provincial government directive last week restricting students’ use of cell phones and other personal mobile devices while attending Nova Scotia public schools.

“Any time we can reduce distractions to enable students to focus more on their learning is a step in the right direction,” Barbara Avery, principal of Chedabucto Education Centre/Guysborough Academy (CEC/GA) in Guysborough, told The Journal in an email.

Added Trevor MacIsaac, principal of St. Mary’s Education Centre/Academy (SMECA) in Sherbrooke, in an email: “Our school certainly supports it.”

Starting next academic year (2024-25), all Nova Scotia public school students will be required to turn off their personal mobile devices and store them out of sight during instructional time. Limited exceptions include junior high and high school teachers permitting cell phone use in class for instructional purposes.

Elementary school students must have their phones stored during the entire school day. Older students may have the option to use cell phones during lunch and other breaks, depending on individual school rules.

According to Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Becky Druhan at the June 6 announcement in Halifax, “Our priority is doing what is best for students, informed by what we hear directly from students, school staff, families and communities. We heard their concerns and, through this new directive, are ensuring students are concentrating on learning and building stronger interpersonal relationships without the distraction of cell phones.”

In an email last week, Deanna Gillis – communications coordinator of the Strait Regional Centre for Education (SRCE), whose jurisdiction encompasses public schools in Antigonish, Guysborough, Inverness and Richmond counties – said, “Principals and staff will now work closely with their respective school advisory councils to review the expectations of this directive and consider any site-specific details. Once a school’s implementation plan is developed, the plan will be communicated to all students, parents and guardians and staff to ensure everyone knows what to expect for the coming school year.”

According to MacIssac and Avery, the new policy will support and expand their schools’ existing rules governing the use of cell phones and other personal electronic devices.

“Last year [SMECA was] seeing issues and having concerns around student distraction and classroom engagement with the use of cellphones among our student population,” MacIssac said. “As a result, we implemented school-based procedures, where we asked students to place their cell phones in cellphone towers/holders or designated baskets at the start of each class. Students have been permitted to take phones to the next class and use them during recess and lunch time. We shared these expectations and associated consequences regarding inappropriate use with students, families and staff in advance of our new school procedure.

“Our next step... is to review the [new] directive and supporting materials more closely and make any required changes to our current school procedure.”

Cell phone restrictions have also been in place “for some time” at CEC/GA, said Avery. “They state that electronic devices must be turned off and stored out of sight. Usage is only permitted in the building before and after school, recess, lunch or during free periods, unless otherwise specified by teachers/lunch supervisors.”

She added, “We will revise and update our current school procedure to ensure it reflects the new directive.”

Local parent Adam Rodgers is among those who are happy with the province’s move.

“Anyone with a smartphone and social media of any kind knows how tempting and distracting they can be,” said the Guysborough lawyer, whose son Silas is entering Grade 7 next year at CEC/GA – in an email.

“Proper education requires focus and fosters longer attention spans, while smart phones and social media undermine both. The new provincial policy is a good compromise, allowing some freedom and access to phones for older students outside of class time, while maintaining the integrity of the classroom environment itself... An important part of the school day is recreation and socialization during recess and lunch breaks, and so it is good for at least the elementary students to not have that time compromised by phone activity.”

In addition to the personal use restrictions, the directive states that cell phones are not permitted in washrooms or change rooms, except when they are needed to “address students’ individual medical or ability needs [as] determined in consultation with Student Planning Team, which includes parents/caregivers.”

Meanwhile, teachers and support staff will “reinforce expectations by modelling behaviour and not using personal cell phones during class for non-work-related reasons.” Principals can also direct students to surrender their phones for not complying with the rules.

Overall, said Rodgers, “I think it should work well. The key will be enforcement, and ensuring that ‘out of sight’ means out of sight... I do not see any merit to the counterargument with respect to needing phones to reach students in an emergency. People can do what has always been done in emergencies, and call the school in order to reach the student.”

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal