Cellphone ban at Victoria's Central Middle School riles parents

A new rule at Central Middle School aims to keep students’ cellphones and Internet-connected iPods at home beginning in September. Some parents are objecting.

It is a first for the Greater Victoria school district. In a letter to parents, principal Topher Macintosh said despite efforts to control their use, “the detrimental impact of cellphones on our school is clear and overwhelming.”

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“Many students have tremendous difficulty managing their use of cellphones, and because of this, teachers are finding phones a serious impediment to instruction and learning.” But efforts will be made to satisfy the concerns of parents who oppose the ban, Macintosh said.

Other schools have their own methods of controlling cellphones, he said. “I think schools are at varying points along the spectrum of response to digital things.”

Tim Cleves, who has a daughter in Grade 7 at Central, said a blanket ban has problems. “I’m completely fine with the school not allowing cellphones for use during school hours in the classrooms and breakroom — whatever it might be — but I don’t feel the school has any right to say children can’t take cellphones to and from school, keep them in their backpack, in their locker.”

He cited the attempted luring of a boy near the school this week as an incident where a cellphone could make a difference.

Cleves said having a cellphone gives his daughter added self-reliance. “When my daughter bikes to school, she’s independent and having a cellphone gives her the chance to be more independent,” he said. “She can text us and can say: ‘Hey Dad, hey Mom, can I go hang out with a friend after school?’ and we know we can reach her if needed.”

Other parents have also emphasized that they use cellphones to keep in touch with children for safety reasons or to arrange to pick them up, Macintosh said, but the response to the ban has been largely positive.

A system might be set up where children can bring cellphones to school, but be required to store them at the office. “Those kids will be able to use their phones to get to and from school, but they won’t be using them in the building.”

The change in cellphone rules has been announced four months in advance, giving people time to adjust, Macintosh said.

Bobbi Bartle-Clar, who also has a daughter in Grade 7 at the school, supports the cellphone restriction. She said that doesn’t mean she has anything against technology. “We have computers, we have an iPad, my husband and I both have phones.”

Her daughter, Bree Anne, has a Chromebook that she takes to school, Bartle-Clar said. “She’s one of the only girls she knows that doesn’t have a cellphone. She uses the school phone to contact us if she needs to change her plans, and it has worked just fine.”

Bartle-Clar said the school has indicated it is prepared for more student use of the school phone as part of the new policy.

Bree Anne said the new rules won’t affect her much since she has no cellphone, “but I know a lot of people who have cellphones and spend a lot of time on their cellphones and they’re probably going to be pretty angry if they’re not allowed to use them at school.”

The current policy at Central allows students to bring cellphones into the school, but they are allowed to have them out only when a teacher asks for them to be used for learning purposes, Macintosh said.

Staff members will be part of the change, limiting their cellphone use at the school to learning situations or emergencies, he said.


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