As the school year gets underway, some students are feeling the pinch as new rules about cell phone usage take effect at Berg Middle School.
At the school, vice principal Steph Langstraat said the policy change was motivated by staff concerns over social media issues. Previously, cell phones had been allowed on a case-by-case basis in the classrooms, with some teachers incorporating them into classroom activities. Now, cell phones are only allowed during the three minute passing period between classes, and in the common areas like the cafeteria, during lunchtime. Langstraat estimated that more 95 percent of the student population at Berg has a cell phone.
“We had lots of issues with cell phones and issues with social media last year that created a lot of angst and hurt,” Langstraat said.
Under the new policy, students at Berg in grades 5-6 have a no phone policy, and teachers will confiscate cell phones on sight. For students in grade 7-8, they are allowed only during the passing period, and at lunchtime, and there’s an escalating series of punishments for students who run afoul of the new policy. The first time a student violates the school’s phone policy, the phone is confiscated until the end of the day. A second offense requires a parent to come into the school to retrieve the phone with their child, a third offense means the child and parent have to meet with Langstraat, and fourth offense results in an in-school suspension or the loss of phone privileges for a week. Langstraat said the feedback she’s received from parents about the new policy has been positive so far.
“It’s a very black and white policy, it’s easier to have the conversation with parents,” Langstraat said.
Betty Buckley, who works in the office at Berg handles returning cell phones to students who’ve had them confiscated during the day. Last week, she said she had more than 15 students who had their phones confiscated during the school day come pick them up at the end of the day.
Administrators walk a fine line in dealing with social media issues, but Langstraat said the school is committed to putting a stop to bullying and harassment, no matter what form it may take. When they see something that’s happening outside of school hours, Langstraat said the school works with Julie Britton, the school’s resource officer, to help students find solutions.
“People take care of things on social media now because it’s easier,” Langstraat said.
As she watches students navigate social media issues Britton said her best advice is for students to just stay away from social media.
“The best way to solve this problem is to get rid of it, they have to learn to filter it, and not let what other people are saying affect them,” Britton said.
Britton estimated she’s called to the school on a weekly basis to meet with students about issues surrounding social media, and often a conversation with students is enough to straighten out the issue. Most of the time, Britton said, students don’t realize their behavior can be harassment, and letting them know how their actions are affecting others is enough to change that behavior.
“It’s easier to have a conversation with a kid and say ‘hey, your behavior is unacceptable’ than to go full force and charge them with something,” Britton said.
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