Colwood middle school joins cellphone ban in classrooms

A Colwood middle school is banning cellphones in classrooms, joining several others in the Greater Victoria region that have done so.

Dunsmuir Middle School informed parents of the change, which requires students to turn off phones and other mobile devices and keep them in their lockers from the beginning of the school day until the final bell, last week.

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Students will be allowed to use their phones only for health or medical purposes, as assistive technology or for educational purposes as directed by a teacher.

“Other than that, the expectation is they will be out of sight and not used,” said principal Mark Kaercher.

Students will also not be allowed to use their phones during lunch or recess.

Kaercher said the new rule is intended to reduce distractions in the classroom and encourage students to spend their breaks socializing outside.

“At recess and lunch we’d like kids to be outside, playing, getting fresh air, getting a brain break,” he said.

He said the news sparked pushback from some students, who took to social media to voice their disapproval and gathered a couple of hundred signatures on a petition, but the new rule is in line with other middle schools in the Sooke School District, as well as schools in the Saanich and Greater Victoria districts.

“What is happening at Dunsmuir is currently the norm for all Victoria middle schools,” said Sooke School District spokeswoman Stephanie Sherlock.

Similar rules are in place at all of the district’s middle schools, which include Journey Middle School, Ecole John Stubbs Memorial School and Spencer Middle School, she said.

Both Colquitz Middle School and Cedar Hill Middle School in the Greater Victoria School District have had “door-to-door” policies for a couple of years, which mean students put phones away when they enter the school and don’t take them out again — unless it’s for educational purposes — until they’re out the door at the end of the day.

 A University of Victoria study looking at the cellphone usage habits of 500 Greater Victoria middle school students found that excessive use has a detrimental effect on wellness and learning outcomes.

The study also found that moderate usage has a positive effect on friendship and emotional well-being.

Principal investigator Sam Liu, an assistant professor in the school of exercise science and health education, said the study defines excessive usage based on an addictions scale that identifies how high a student’s risk is for being addicted to their screen.

Liu said the team is currently looking at its data to determine what kind of impact school cellphone rules have on students’ learning outcomes and wellness. They expect to have an answer in about a month.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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