Junior high schools across the Santa Clarita Valley began the school year implementing a “personal device” policy that requires students to keep cell phones and other electronic devices in their backpacks during school hours.
La Mesa Junior High School and Castaic Middle School have already enforced the new policy, which requires students to keep their cellphones and smart watches turned off and in their backpacks at all times while on campus grounds. The staff at Rancho Pico Junior High is looking into enforcing similar policies in the near future, according to Linda Storli, board president of the William S. Hart Union High School District.
“We were seeing an increase in at-risk social-emotional learning behavior in the students,” said Michele Krantz, principal at La Mesa. “Kids were not interacting with each other and cyberbullying was causing conflict on campus.”
The policy began when students came back from summer vacation last year. Krantz said the transition was easier for seventh graders, who had transitioned from elementary schools where cell phones were not allowed on campus at all. However, eighth graders had a more difficult time because they were used to having and using a cell phone during school hours.
Another area of concern for administration and staff was the ability for students to access inappropriate content online, without supervision.
Krantz said students are able to work online with Chromebooks, which are provided in class, but teachers use the program Go Guardian, which allows the teacher to monitor each screen and notice inappropriate behavior.
“We’re supposed to be keeping kids safe in school and if they’re accessing inappropriate things online, that’s not keeping them safe,” Krantz said. “There’s no way we can make sure they’re accessing appropriate behavior since we’re not allowed to look in their phones.”
When children are caught using their phones during school hours, Krantz said there are discipline steps to confiscate the cell phone, and she rarely sees second offenses.
Storli visited La Mesa to observe how the policy has affected the school overall, and the individual students.
Parents and students were informed of the new policy before the school year began, according to Storli. She added students who require electronic devices for health reasons, such as special education and diabetics, still have the ability to use their devices when needed.
When safety was questioned, Storli said students will still have access to their phones since they are stored in backpacks.
“If there’s an emergency outside of school, parents can alert staff and staff can alert the child and their teacher right away,” Storli said. “They’re never not connected. If there’s a lockdown and they need to use their phones, they can.”
Although Storli said she’s seen improvement in student behavior and interaction in junior high schools, she said this policy wouldn’t be as effective in high schools.
“It’s a big deal to talk to the kids before they get used to using their phones at school,” she said. “Since we started this in junior high schools, it could possibly roll over to high schools as they get older and are used to it.”
Castaic Middle School Principal Bob Brauneisen worked alongside Krantz to enforce a similar policy at his school.
“You see more kids reading, playing, practicing music, increased club participation,” said Brauneisen. “There’s less discipline issues. The act of using the phone consumed their day. Now our club enrollment has gone up 10 times.”
Storli said she would like to push for this policy to be implemented in all junior high schools in the district.