Metro-east middle school bans students from using cellphones

A local middle school decided to ban cellphones during school hours because the technology became a distraction, as well as a tool for cyberbullying and sharing of “explicit content.”

Starting March 1, the only electronic devices that students will be allowed to use between 8:25 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. at Collinsville Middle School are school-issued Chromebook computers. Cellphones will be required to be “completely out of sight” while students are in the building, according to a letter Principal Kimberly Jackson sent to parents.

There have been some instances of bullying and spreading of explicit messages between students, which Jackson said the school recognized as a trend among teens in general.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been a problem, but it’s been an escalating occurrence that we’re seeing both in frequency and type of event, so rather than sit back and wait for it to become a problem, we’ve decided that we want to tackle it on the front end,” Jackson said.

Jackson said Collinsville Middle School has made an effort to use media to share positive messages online, where bullying is common. In December, for example, teachers filmed unsuspecting students’ reactions to being told they’re appreciated.

“I see it as one of our most critical missions,” Jackson said of anti-bullying efforts.

Often, Jackson said students are posting and sharing things on personal devices that the school had no control over.

“It’s our job to monitor those things, and with our Chromebooks … I have all kinds of things that monitor content that’s going from one place to another,” Jackson said.

One parent, Christy Chapman, said she was initially worried about being able to contact her two 13-year-old children while they’re at school in the future. But after speaking with Jackson, she warmed up to the policy change.

“There’s so much bullying,” Chapman said. “Kids need to be concerned about learning and not about their phones and what’s going on with other kids, so I think it’s a great idea.”

Jackson said Chapman isn’t the only parent wondering how to communicate with children at school in the future. When the policy takes effect, parents will be asked to send emails that students can access on their Chromebooks or contact the school’s main office rather than a child’s cellphone when school is in session.

The school’s existing cellphone policy allows students to use their phones during lunch in the cafeteria “for educational purposes,” according to the student handbook that is available on the middle school’s website. They aren’t allowed to use cellphones in classrooms unless teachers give them permission.

But Jackson said students weren’t following that policy.

“What we were finding is that the temptation to take a look at it, the temptation to use it even during academic times was too great — even for students that had no other violations sometimes,” she said.