In recent months, the New York City Board of Education banned cell phones from public schools, causing controversy among parents and students. A New York trial court upheld the rule banning possession of cell phones at school.
Area high schools at Hillsboro, Marion, Peabody, Goessel, Centre and Canton-Galva haven’t gone so far as to ban possession of cell phones, but five of the six schools don’t allow cell phones to be turned on or visible during the school day.
Hillsboro is the exception. For the second year, the HHS policy allows students to use cell phones during passing periods and at lunch.
“The reason we do that here is because we know that we can’t keep cell phones out of the school,” said Dale Honeck, principal. “It’s an impossibility.”
Honeck said that for HHS to fully enforce a ban on cell phones, the school would need the “same kind of security system that airports have because kids have coats, they have backpacks and cell phones are so thin anymore, they can be in your pocket.
“There’s nine entrances to our school,” he added. “We’d have to have people on those doors every morning checking kids’ bookbags and coats.”
Honeck said there were two other primary reasons for allowing cell phone use during school hours.
First, he said that a public phone for student use is already placed in the hallway. The phone can be used throughout the school day, even during passing periods and during lunch.
“That phone is for use 24 hours a day,” Honeck said. “Most schools have a phone for that. If the office is locked, the buses left, the other kids are gone, the kid needs a phone. So we allow kids to use that phone.
“If we have five students lined up to use that phone at lunch and two of them walk outside to use their cell phone, what’s the problem with that? They’re going to make a phone call, the same phone call. Why should they wait five or 10 minutes to get on the phone?”
In addition to student convenience, Honeck said the school’s open-lunch policy also made an impact when the former cell-phone policy was evaluated two years ago.
“Open lunch means kids can leave campus,” he said. “That’s why we have a particular situation here that other schools don’t.”
Honeck said that when kids leave campus for lunch, the school doesn’t have control over cell-phone use.
“It’s their free time,” he said.
In contrast to passing periods and lunch, the school’s policy for cell phones in the classroom is strict.
“In class our policy is when the tardy bell rings to the dismissal bell—no phones, no phone calls, no phone iPod, no pictures, no text messaging,” Honeck said. “The phone has to be off; it can’t be e activated.”
If students are caught using cell phones during class time, even in the hallways, restrooms or locker rooms, they receive a one-hour detention.
Honeck said this year the policy contains no gray areas. Students are not allowed to use cell phones between the tardy bell and the dismissal bell, even if work is completed and only two minutes remain in the school day.
“It doesn’t make a difference if you’re sitting there and class is over,” he said. “You can’t use it until the bell rings.”
So far this year, Honeck said, the school averages one referral per day.
“If our teachers would turn them in—and it looks like they’re doing a pretty good job turning them in—I think the kids will do better,” he said.
“If they see a place where a teacher will just say ‘Shut that off’ and not do a thing about it, then it gets confusing to kids because they think, ‘Do they care or not?’”
In compliance with the policy, teachers are allowed to have students place cell phones on a counter or elsewhere on test days if they believe students are using the phones to cheat.
But Honeck said as far as he knows, teachers haven’t needed to use that portion of the policy.
The cell-phone policy will be re-evaluated at the end of this school year.
“If we have one (referral) a day and have 183 referrals for cell phones and last year had 28, we’ll look at it again,” Honeck said. “It will be hard to go backward; that’s always the hard thing.”
But Honeck said he believes Hillsboro High School is on the right track.
“There’s always going to be issues, but I’m hoping in time people realize they have a good deal, because they have a good deal here,” h said.
Teachers and students agree the new policy is working.
Darrel Knoll, ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher, said he hasn’t had cell phone issues in his classes.
“I have never seen anybody have their cell phone out,” he said. “From that standpoint I think (the policy) is working OK.
“One thing I’ve noticed down the hall sometimes is that students are always texting their friends or spending time on the phones when previously they might have been talking to the person next to them or conversing in that way a little bit.
“That’s probably the main thing I’ve noticed more than anything else.”
Kelsey Unruh, an HHS senior, said the reason students are using cell phones more is because it makes it easy to keep in contact with friends.
“It’s an easy way to communicate with people you don’t get to see very often,” she said, “like friends from different towns and stuff.”
For the most part, Unruh likes the new cell-phone policy.
“I like how we can use cell phones in between classes and at lunch,” she said. “But sometimes, if somebody accidentally forgets to turn their cell phone off or to silent, if they’re in a hurry in the morning, and then they get a detention for that, I don’t think that’s fair.”
Unruh suggested students should get a warning for the first infraction with detentions for subsequent infractions.
But Honeck said students have accepted the policy as well as the punishment.
“Cell phones are not the biggest deal in the world, as long as kids take their punishment,” he said. “And everyone does. I’ve never had any problem with any kid.”
Even though the policy will be evaluated, Honeck said that through cooperation of students and teachers alike, the policy will stay in effect.
“As long as (students) don’t get carried away with it and we have six or seven referrals a day, I think we’ll keep the policy.
“Just because a school like Hillsboro is experimenting with something like this doesn’t mean it’s a good thing or a bad thing,” he added. “It’s just something we’re trying. It may not be good for every school but we’re looking at it.
“We’re trying to figure it out as we go. But right now I think it’s going to be OK. I really do.”