Banning Cell Phones and Avoiding the Real Problems

[Letter to the editor of the Akron Beacon Journal]

To the Editor,

Just over two months ago, at a regular meeting of the Akron Board of Education, there was an outpouring of concern regarding the safety of our public schools. At that meeting, several parents stood up and stated that they feared for their children’s safety. Some went so far as expressing concern that their children would not make it home. Teachers were also particularly vocal about the issues they face on a daily basis—from plumes of vape in the bathrooms to fights in those same places. Several teachers noted that they and their families fear for their safety—a fear that is justified given the reported assaults against teachers. Add to this the separate instances of the discovery of a gun at Firestone High School, a loaded gun at Litchfield, and a bathroom fight that resulted in one student being stabbed. The concern over school safety and the lack of meaningful actions on the part of the administration were deemed so important that it nearly led to a strike. But two months later the logic of the response by some members of the Board of Education to this violence eludes me.

Facing these serious safety issues, what measures did the board take? Did they propose increasing the number of security personnel monitoring bathrooms and hallways during and between classes? Did they consider hiring more counselors or intervention specialists to address the root cause of the violence? Did they examine the possibility of implementing ID badges that also allow the school to track the location of students? No, they didn’t. Instead, they are proposing removing the one lifeline parents have to make sure their child is safe, namely, a student’s cell phone.

How is banning cell phones going to make my child safer? It won’t stop fights from happening. And it doesn’t come close to addressing the underlying causes of the reported violence in the schools. What it will do is remove the one means parents have to ascertain whether their child is safe in the event of a lockdown. It also removes the psychological comfort students may have knowing a parent or guardian is just a text away.1

Cell phones have been in schools for over 10 years. Policies are already in place that hold students accountable if they are misused. What seems to be lacking is the will to consistently and fairly enforce those policies (and to support the teachers that do so). Banning cell phones is not the answer to the safety issues in schools. It simply adds to parental stress and anxiety by removing one very direct way to check on our child’s well-being. Given the real problems facing teachers and the majority of students who are behaving responsibly, and considering we live in a world where school shootings are far too common, focusing on cell phones is at best misguided, and at worst irresponsible.

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