School board approves parent/student handbook

Herald file photoOskaloosa High School

OSKALOOSA — Oskaloosa students are going to have to live without their cellphones at hand during class time.

The Oskaloosa Community School District Board of Directors approved the 2019-2020 parent/student handbooks.

One of the topics of conversation during the board's special meeting on Tuesday, July 16, centered around students' cellphones.

Board member Carl Drost said there had been some interesting discussions about preventing students from being distracted by the ubiquitous devices.

"And good luck," he said, "because employers are having horrible problems with employees and their cell phones."

Oskaloosa High School Associate Principal Chuck Banks said some classrooms are rigid and some are relaxed with regard to phone expectations.

"Kids know that as well. Classrooms that are tight, their instruction is more protected, there's less distraction, kids are on task, it's just a better environment," he said. "So we're offering to give teachers a resource to where everyone is consistent."

Banks said a solution is to have a holder to hang on classroom doors with numbers on them. Students will have the same number every day and will place their phone in the holder as they come in.

"There are some teachers that are already doing that," he said, "and it works very, very well."

During Iowa Quality testing, Banks said, several groups of Oskaloosa students identified that one of the biggest reasons high school kids were failing classes was because they were distracted by their phones.

"So that's kind of what got our attention, I guess," Banks said. "They were begging us to do something."

The administrators will work with teachers and keep things as consistent as they can.

"It's going to be very, very tight. It's going to be bumpy for a few weeks. Kids are not going to like it very much," he said. "But I think they will understand that it is important. They need to understand how to use that responsibly and right now some of them aren't capable of doing that. So we're going to help them along a little bit."

Oskaloosa Community School District Superintendent Paula Wright asked whether it might be an option for the students to leave their phone in their backpack if they're not comfortable putting their phone in the holder due to concerns it might be stolen.

If the phone is seen during class, Banks said, it will be confiscated. But teachers aren't going to be searching for the phones. Students also have the option to leave their phones in their locker or just not bring them to school.

"But we know how that goes," he said.

On the flip side, Banks said, there are times when phones are useful in class.

"Teachers do different activities where kids use those to vote and different things, so that will be a real organized way to get your phone and do it, put it back. That'll just be part of their classroom management," he said. "It can also be a reward. If they're doing very well and it's Friday and they're working independently, the teacher may say 'yes, you can get your phone out and listen to music while you work,' little kind of things. So I think there will be a lot of positives with that as well."

Oskaloosa Community School District Board of Directors President Shelly Herr said other schools are doing similar things.

Banks said he feels schools have kind of gone in a big circle on the issue, going from confiscating phones immediately toward being resigned that students will have their phones at hand whenever possible.

"Now it's kind of on the other side of that pendulum to where we're kind of throwing our hands up a little bit. I think a lot of schools are kind of swinging back the other way. No one's going clear to the extreme, because it is part of kids," he said. "There's research that shows their stress level goes up if they don't have their phone, which is crazy to me. But they need to learn how to use it the right way."

Oskaloosa Middle School Principal Mark Scholes said he had had some concerns with the plan. Foremost, he said, was students with health concerns such as diabetes.

"They use their phones to not only track their own insulin levels but also that lets their parents know where their insulin levels are, too," he said. "So I was hesitant from that perspective."

Another thing Scholes was concerned about was the fact that students having phones with them can be an important means of communication with parents when it comes to getting picked up for appointments or other activities.

"That was my hesitancy on this," he said. "I'm not saying I'm against doing this; I'd be willing to. But those were some red flags that came up for me and that's why I didn't want to move forward on it yet."

Scholes said if students are caught with a phone in class, the phone is brought to the office. If caught a second time, a parent has to come and pick up the phone.

Oskaloosa Elementary School Principal Mike Dursky said the elementary school doesn't really have a phone issue.

"Our teachers really do a good job. I haven't had a teacher bring a phone concern to me since I've been here," he said. "They pretty much leave them in their backpacks or pockets."