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Student cell phones banned at ECHS, ECMS

News Staff Writer

Students at Escambia County High School and Escambia County Middle School are already getting used to a school day without their cell phones, and students in the rest of the county’s public schools are only a few months away from having to make the same adjustment.
Superintendent of Education Dr. Michele Collier announced the new move during the Escambia County Board of Education’s April 18 meeting. She said the decision to put the ban in place came after recent endorsements by State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey and the entire Alabama State Board of Education.
“The state came out with their proclamation, so I addressed that at the board meeting in February,” Dr. Collier said after the meeting. “When I went with Mr. [ECMS Principal Forrest] Jones to the state recognition for his school being in the Top 25 improved schools, we were talking about it, and we decided ‘let’s do it’.”
Mackey told reporters after a recent meeting of the state board that many of the state’s school boards have already begun restricting cell phone use. He said research has proven that not having access to social media and texting during the school day leads to higher academic performance and fewer disciplinary problems.
“Obviously, we want higher academics, and we want fewer disciplinary problems, too,” Mackey said.
Collier said she suggested that the ban not be put into place immediately, that it be delayed until after spring break. She added that she, other administrators and teachers are probably going to have to listen to a lot of questions from concerned parents and guardians.
“I asked the principals what they thought about it, and all of them want to say no phones in schools, but they know it’s going to be a hard conversation because parents are accustomed to their students having phones,” said Collier. “What the parents don’t know, is how [students] are using them in the school. We want them focused on learning, not on sending messages to ‘meet me in the hall’ or to fight, or whatever. This is where we can eliminate the distractions that they have.”
Students have reportedly used their cell phones to arrange off-campus meetings with non-students, to set up fights, to let students in later classes know the questions that appeared on a test and for other communications that fall outside the class routine.
The county schools chief added that the days of students needing cell phones for class research and similar tasks are over, that the schools are providing all the research materials a student needs.
“We want to respect students and their needs, but we’ve provided a computer to every student, so it’s not about access anymore,” she said. “I can understand when this was bring-your-own-device, and that device was your computer. Now it’s a communication tool in school that we need to kind of take a step away from.”
County education officials will monitor the success of the ECHS-ECMS phone ban, which will be implemented systemwide next school term. Collier said community meetings will be held to better inform parents of the new telephone ban and to address concerns from parents and others as the ban progresses.
“That’s why we’re not doing it district-wide until next year,” Collier explained. “It’s like a pilot program — it’s at two schools that feed each other, and they are addressing a lot of discipline issues with a phone, that they won’t have to anymore. Teachers will be able to teach; students will be able to learn.”
She said expected opposition to the ban has been relatively mild, especially since a violation affects the parent more than the student.
“There’s always going to be opposition, but really it’s not been bad,” she admitted. “If a student’s phone is taken, the parent comes and picks it up, and you can have a conversation with that parent about why you’re doing it.
“It’s not like we’re trying to put them in punishment because they had a phone that was taken. It’s really about taking the phone after telling them to put it away. If they don’t put it away, we’ll take it, and mama can come get it.”