West Island high school bans cellphone use on school property — even during recess and lunch

Students at St. Thomas High School on Montreal’s West Island have new restrictions on cellphone use this year that require them to turn off their phones and put them in their lockers all day.

The new policy banning cellphone use on school property was emailed to parents of the Pointe-Claire high school on Monday evening.

As provinces and schools across Canada determine how cellphones fit into students’ time at school, St. Thomas High School’s new policy appears to be among the strictest.

Under the new policy, students will not be able to use their electronic devices in school even during their breaks, so there’s no texting, calling, social media, listening to music or taking photos until they leave the school at the end of the day.

The policy also says that if the policy is not respected, the device would be “withheld or removed” from the student.

If a student is caught using a cellphone in school for a third time, it would be confiscated until the parent or guardian can retrieve it at the end of the school day. The device could also be confiscated during school hours for the next three business days.

However, Jim Hendry, spokesperson for the Lester B. Pearson school board, said no cellphones will be kept overnight.

The school’s governing board discussed the new policy in June and it was presented to Secondary 1 parents in late August, he explained. The plan was well-received and an email went out to everybody else, he said.

“It is unfortunate that the conversation is taking place on social media, with accurate and inaccurate information,” Hendry wrote in an email to CBC.

“St. Thomas is a vibrant school community, and as always, is open for discussions with parents within the appropriate venues available.”

Any issues regarding health and/or safety will be considered a “top priority” at St. Thomas, he said, and any time a student needs to be reached, parents can do so through the appropriate cycle office.

Mixed reaction from parents

The policy is an unwelcome surprise for Marco Romani, whose son Massimo this week started Secondary 5 — Quebec’s equivalent to Grade 11 — at St. Thomas. Marco Romani says he could understand a policy that bans cellphones in the classroom, but this new policy goes too far.

“It’s very prohibitive. It’s basically no cellphones period. That’s the end of the story,” Romani told CBC News.

Romani says that, as a single parent, he communicates with his son via cellphone — sending reminders for orthodontist appointments and after-school commitments.

“I expect the students not to be on their phones while in class, but it’s my understanding that the students use their phones any time they’re out of class.” Romani said.

For other parents, however, this policy is a step toward lessening teenagers’ dependence on electronic devices.

Anni Mills, whose son is starting Secondary 4 — or Grade 10 — at St. Thomas, says she hopes this new policy will change her son’s digital habits, even outside of school.

“When they come home right away, instead of going to homework or going outside, they go straight to electronics,” she said.

She has already implemented a similar policy in her household. From Monday to Thursday, when her children get home they place their electronic devices on the counter, and are not allowed to touch them for the rest of the night.

The only exceptions: her children can use them for homework, or if an activity — like sports practice — is planned.

“I think it’s wonderful, and I think all of the schools should adopt it,” Mills said.

“It’s a really good place to start for everybody.”

St. Thomas principal Marie-Josée Coiteux declined CBC Montreal’s request for an interview about the new policy, but said in a statement that it was brought in because she was concerned about the presence of cellphones on student learning and health.

She also pointed out there is other technology available to students for educational purposes — like chrome books, smart boards and computers in the computer lab.

For his part, Romani remains skeptical.

“Smartphones are a part of life now.” He said.

“Especially for younger people, that’s something that is going to be with them for the rest of their lives. They need to be taught how to use it.”

Broader discussion on cellphones in the classroom

In other parts of Canada, school cellphone use policies — if they exist — vary.

Ontario, for instance, will also be restricting them in classrooms across the province starting in November.

A spokesperson from the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement that the ministry plans to “restrict the use of cellphones and other personal mobile devices during instructional time.”

Exceptions will be made be for educational purposes, health or medical purposes, or special needs, said the spokesperson.

Quebec does not intend to follow Ontario’s example.

A spokesperson in Quebec’s Education Ministry said in a statement to CBC News that an outright ban is inconsistent with the ministry’s mission to educate and sensitize young people to these devices. The spokesperson said these devices are becoming a bigger part in young people’s lives.

However, Quebec’s provincial government has expressed concern about the amount of time children are spending on mobile devices — with Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant announcing in August that his ministry will be looking into ways to tackle youth screen addiction.

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