Should Canby High School students have access to their personal cellphones during instructional time? It’s a question the Canby School Board is currently grappling with, and their last meeting revealed a difference of opinions that may not be easily solved.
The two newest members of the board, Stefani Carlson and Dawn Depner, have been working with Board Chair Angi Dilkes to revise the district’s policy on personal electronic devices, which was first adopted five years ago — an eternity in technological terms — and last revisited in 2018.
Current practice leaves it up to individual teachers whether cellphones are allowed in their classrooms and if they can be used during instructional time. But Depner and Carlson believe the devices should be turned off and out of sight during class, and they introduced language to this effect.
At the last school board meeting, Depner explained her belief that personal cellphones in the classroom are — first of all — unnecessary, when every Canby School District student in grades six through 12 is provided a dedicated iPad for educational use, both in school and at home.
Personal devices, on the other hand, are easier to conceal and harder to regulate. A student using a cellphone and not connected to the district’s wifi would have no restriction on the sites they visit or the applications they use.
And unrestricted access to the Internet and social media during classroom time, Depner believes, can be distracting, facilitate cheating or even lead to anxiety, depression and cyberbullying. She said she has talked with other districts who have implemented policies prohibiting personal cellphone use in the classroom, with dramatic and positive effects.
The policy presented to the school board would prohibit the use of personal electronic devices during instructional time at Canby High School — which is already the rule at Baker Prairie Middle School. Students would still be permitted to have phones at school — as long as they are out of sight during class time — and exceptions would be allowed for those in Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 plans.
However, the latest proposal contained one key compromise: “Unless authorized by the classroom teacher or school administrator,” which would essentially mirror the current practice already in effect.
Depner said, and Carlson later agreed, that the problem with this is a lack of consistency and equity.
“To give the teachers the choice equals less consistency,” Carlson said in a discussion on Depner’s school board member Facebook page. “And consistency is what kids, teachers and administrators need. We need complete clearness in what is acceptable and what is not.”
The compromise seemed to be a sticking point for several, with Carlson saying she felt it moved the policy “completely away from my original intention,” while another member, Rob Sheveland, called it “the one change that kind of brought me around on it.”
Mike Zagyva, vice chair of the board and a retired Canby teacher and administrator himself, said he supports the policy as presented, because of the authority and autonomy it allows for teachers to have in their own classrooms.
Superintendent Trip Goodall said the no-tolerance policy had provoked some concerns among teachers and administrators about how it would be monitored and policed. Implementing such a restrictive policy would be “very, very difficult” at the high school level, he explained, an opinion that he said is shared by other superintendents in the region.
“I don’t want to say ‘that ship has sailed,’ but it would be difficult,” Goodall said.
In the end, the school board did not vote on the issue but requested further research and information on how the policy might be enforced.