La Cañada High School 7/8 students began the school year last August with a new prohibition designed to reduce troublesome behaviors inside and outside the classroom — they were not to turn on cellphones for the entire school day.
Unless permitted and supervised by a teacher for instructional purposes, personal mobile devices were to remain off and out of sight. Parents and students needing to communicate could do so in a dedicated space in the office.
Implemented by Principal Jarrett Gold at the request of a parent group armed with research about the dangers of being perpetually plugged in, the new policy applied even to break and lunch periods.
Penalties for offenders escalate from confiscation to lunchtime detention to Saturday school and even suspension.
While the change was initially met with some indignation, officials and students agree nine months in that there’s just something about being without a cellphone that seems to work.
“People are a bit more social now,” said eighth-grader Eric Koo during a recent phone-free lunch period. “Normally people were on Instagram and people were talking about what was on their phones. And now we talk about other things.”
Socialization was just one factor that inspired La Cañada mom Caren Saiet and an impassioned group of cohorts to broach the subject with Gold last summer.
“Social media access causes anxiety and depression, all kinds of issues,” Saiet said, explaining how Stanford University’s Challenge Success program, which LCHS adopted in 2016, links digital-device overload to reduced sleep and fewer in-person interactions. “All the research shows there shouldn’t be phones in schools.”
At first Gold was skeptical. But as he read the literature and thought about how many problems he saw come into his office that had social media at their root, he decided to give it a try.
Today, the benefits are obvious. Fewer phones were confiscated this year with the ban in place than last year, when they were allowed outside of class, and there hasn’t been a single third offense.
“On break our kids are talking more, and they’re more engaged,” Gold said. “We’ve seen a huge decline in social media issues — I can’t think of one this year.”
Increased calls to the school office from parents who used to text or call kids’ cellphones directly required an increase in work hours for one attendance clerk, but so far there’s been little blowback, aside from occasional sneaking, the principal reported.
The ban keeps kids from calling Uber Eats and Grubhub to request lunchtime deliveries that clog the parking lot at lunchtime. Next year, the moratorium might expand to include Apple Watches and EarPods.
Eighth-grade math teacher Samantha Wright says teachers have gained a few minutes of instructional time each day, from no longer having to tell kids to put their phones away and competing for pupils’ attention.
“It just sets the tone that we’re here at school and we’re here to learn,” Wright said. “I think the kids appreciate the break.”
Although the success of the new policy at the middle school seems unquestionable, Saiet’s effort to extend the ban to grades 9-12 has not borne fruit. Some say high schoolers need cellphones to organize busy after-school schedules. Others think they should practice self-regulation now, before entering college and the workplace.
LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal said he plans to foster uniform enforcement of the current policy among teachers next year, rather than consider a ban.
“We want to uphold the policy we have, which I don’t believe has really been enforced,” Cartnal said. “I want the school to do what it says we’re going to do.”
The current high school policy, adopted in 2003, says “telephones and pagers are to be turned off in the classroom and during school activities in which their use would cause a disruption,” indicating students use phones only during non-instructional time.
Eighth-grader Christian Armaly, who got his first cellphone two years ago, said he can see why the ban might not be for the high school set.
“It might work, but it shouldn’t be applied,” Armaly said. “They’re full-blown teenagers going into adulthood. They have to manage time wisely and police themselves at that age.”