October 26, 2021

Baxter reigning in cell phone use at school

Cell phone use during school hours in the Baxter district are being modified from previous years. A new policy restricting use to specific times during the day, depending on age, is in effect for the upcoming year.

“I can tell you cell phones have become a really big problem over the last two years,” secondary principal Rob Luther said. “It is a teacher problem, it’s a student problem, it’s an engagement problem.”

Luther continued that students feel the need to be on social media frequently and there have been problems with kids taking photos during the school day and sharing it before teachers or administration has a chance to address it. When researching neighboring school districts, he also found Baxter has the most relaxed policy he could find.

“I can tell you, almost across the board our policy was looser than every school I could find. It was for sure looser than every school that touched us,” Luther said. “We kind of went at it a while back that we wanted to teach digital citizenship, we wanted to teach how to use cell phones in the real world and it just wasn’t happening.”

The policy will have no cell phones in any classroom, locker room or bathroom at any time during the day. For grades six through eight, cell phones will be required to stay in bags or lockers from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. For high schoolers, phones will be allowed during passing and during lunch.

“It’s not in our policy but we are going to start with phone caddies. I didn’t want to put it in the policy in case it fails miserably or for whatever reason we don’t like the phone caddies,” Luther said. “We have talked and a lot of schools are using them.”

At Baxter, the students will check their phone into a specific space on the caddy as they walk into the classroom. It will also be used as a form of attendance to see who is not there based on cell phones present. If a space is empty and the student is present, the teacher will ask why it isn’t in the caddy.

“(If) the students says, well my parent took it this week because I was grounded, OK, that’s fine, noted, but they better not see the phone or it is an office referral because they would have already been in insubordination not putting the phone in the caddy. We’re going to go that route,” Luther said.

For the first offense, teachers will just ask for the cell phone to be put away. For the second office, the teacher will take the cell phone and put it on their desk and address the student after class. If there is a third offense, the student will be sent to the office and parents will be notified.

If students need to make a call or use their phone outside of the designated time, they can ask to go to the office to do so. Administration understands it has become a common way for people to communicate with the students.

“If the kids need to call for any reason all they have to do is ask to leave and go to the office. It is easier to use the cell phone in my office than pick up the phone. Just ask ... absolutely you can call,” Luther said. “Nothing is going to change except in those 41 minutes we want you engaged with that teacher.”

When presenting this to teachers in the district, Luther said he heard back from one that cell phones have become an easy source to use when class wraps up a few minutes early. With the new policy, it will force the teachers and students to communicate and engage person-to-person for the entire class time.

“I know it is going to be a tough week for all of us, especially me. I am going to start with kids on day one in a positive manner with this, why we are doing it, I am going to give them some data on why we are doing it,” Luther said. “I don’t even know where the kids are going to push. They are smart and they are going to figure out ways.”

When talking with other districts, he was told students have carried two phones and put one in the caddy will keeping the other with them. As instances arise, the district will deal with them. The district has also worked to communicate the changes with students and parents prior to the start of the year.

“With any policy we have, 90 percent of the kids follow it and I’ll deal with the other 10 percent,” Luther said. “But we were having way more than 50 percent of lack of student engagement.

“We’re going to get push back from kids, I know we are. We are here to learn. Kids are going to struggle but if we’re all consistent, this is how we do business.”

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or jpierson@newtondailynews.com