With just 30 minutes to go before the start of another school year at La Cañada High School last Thursday, eighth-grader Arwyn Dilbeck gazed across Oak Grove Drive at the campus and sighed.
The first day of school was sure to bring many things — hugs from friends, stories of summer exploits, new teachers and class schedules — but among them would be one notable absence.
No. More. Cellphones.
LCHS 7/8 Principal Jarrett Gold broke the news in an email to parents earlier this summer, introducing a policy that mandates students keep all personal mobile devices off or silenced for the entire school day, including breaks and during lunch. Previous policy allowed use when not in class.
Escalating penalties for offenders include temporary confiscation, lunchtime detention, Saturday school and suspension.
The news may not mean much for incoming seventh-graders, because using cellphones during the instructional day is prohibited on La Cañada Unified’s elementary campuses. But it’s a bit of a bummer for eighth-graders like Dilbeck, who experienced a year of relative digital freedom last year only to have it taken away.
“It wasn’t something I always needed, but I knew I had it,” the 12-year-old said of her phone. “Now that I know I can’t have it, I want it.”
Gold’s decision wasn’t lightly made. He said he weighed the options after a group of parents brought to his attention the deleterious effects regular mobile device use can have on students’ communication skills, executive functioning and self-esteem.
“When I looked through the information and read the articles, it started making sense,” the principal said. “Most of the stuff that comes into my office [relates to] cellphone and social media use. I think the lack of that will help solve some of the problems we have.”
Caren Sait, who has a daughter in eighth grade and a fourth-grade son, was among those parents who formed a committee and met with Gold over the summer to explore the topic of applying and enforcing a stricter policy.
Calls to nearby high-performing unified school districts, including San Marino and South Pasadena, revealed cellphones are prohibited at the high school level. While there’s been no talk about extending the LCHS ban from middle into high school, parents say they’re interested in pursuing that avenue.
Previous attempts to thwart phone use in LCHS 7/8 classes — including the use of corrals that came to be called “beehives” for the collective buzzing that would occur as moms and dads called and texted to check in — weren’t effective enough, according to Sait.
“Kids would grab them the second they’d leave and then they had them all through lunch,” she said.
Gold said he’s been working with staff to ensure the policy is enforced. On the first day of school, eighth-grade math teacher Sam Wright said teachers were on board.
“They’re addicted to [phones]. They’re almost too connected, even with their parents,” she said. “I think this will be good. Plus, they have their Chromebooks, which lets them do pretty much everything they need to do.”
To accommodate parents who need to reach kids during school, LCHS 7/8 has created a “safe zone” in the office where calls can be made or taken. Parents can also call the school directly during emergencies.
Leah Dilbeck, who bought daughter Arwyn her first basic Moto phone when she was in the fourth grade, said while a cellphone has been a helpful tool for communicating when she might be running late in arriving home from work, or for arranging midday lunch pickups, she supports the new policy.
“I just don’t think they should have their phones in class,” the former teacher said. “They’re already distracted enough. If this gets them to be a little more interactive, that would be nice.”
Eighth-grader Enzo Lee, however, is skeptical.
“It’s stupid,” Lee said of the prohibition. “That’s the only time we have to not be stressed.”