Starting next school year, students in Bexley’s district won’t be allowed to bring their cell phones and other devices to class. 

“Starting in August 2019, students will not be permitted to bring personal electronic devices (phones, smartwatches, headphones, etc.) into classrooms unless there is a documented accommodation for a student. Students need an excuse to disconnect, and we are that excuse.”

The superintendent, Dr. Kimberly Pietsch Miller said by phone that students may have the phones with them. They simply must have them powered down while in class. She explained that the district understands parents use these phones to know when their children have arrived home or in transit to and from school and the staff fully respects this.

Parent, AJ Oishi, has a strong opinion about phones in the classroom. 

“I’ve always thought it was a little bit strange that they [students] could go in and receive text messages and still be checking Instagram, Snap Chat, and all these things and at the same time still history and English,” said Oishi. “I’m super relieved that they’re not going to have their phones in there in the school anymore.”

The district’s email cites a number of sources that helped them come to this decision. One of those is the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. That article says that teens act on impulse, misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions. 

“Scientists have identified a specific region of the brain called the amygdala that is responsible for immediate reactions including fear and aggressive behavior,” according to the author. 

Basically, the school district wants the students to focus on the task of learning and not worrying about the personal life online in real time.

“The constant barrage of social media and temptations with games on phones we think the best learning environment is one that doesn’t have phones,” said Bexley Middle School Principal Jason Caudill. “As long as the phone is sitting there kids are still aware of it and thinking about it. Even the device being present in the classroom connects with the kids brain where they’re thinking about that.”

Caudill said that the school district has enough computers and handheld devices to accommodate students research needs for school purposes.

As for Oishi, she says she is changing the way her family gets phones. Her oldest two children were given phones in the fifth grade. Her youngest child is entering the fifth grade this year in Bexley.

“My youngest is not getting a phone any time soon, and she’ll be monitored in regards to social media,” said Oishi.

“Dear Parents and Guardians,

Please read below for information about Bexley’s personal device plan for the 2019-20 school year. This does not represent a significant change for Maryland, but we want all families to be aware of this plan that will be in place throughout all of Bexley Schools.

Personal Device Usage for 2019-20 School Year

Currently there is a musical being written about the life of Roy Rogers and one of the early songs has a line:

“Everybody wants to know the truth,

but nobody wants to hear it.”

We know the truth: our kids are hurting and being always connected plays no small part in that (see references at bottom). They face more pressure to be perfect, more temptation to be unhealthy, more opportunities to be exposed than any generation before them.

It would be inaccurate to say that technology in general is causing mental health problems for kids, but it would be irresponsible to say that access to social media and 24/7 news isn’t a catalyst.

This letter is a call to action from our schools to your homes because we believe changes are required.  

How did we get here?

It is hard to believe that the iPhone is just over a decade old. In that time, smartphones have gone from a novelty and luxury item to something that most teens feel that they are entitled to have.  (Can you imagine expecting your parents to give you a $1,000 device that also has a monthly charge?) Initially educators had concerns about how distracting cell phones could be in classrooms and many schools banned them. That was a fear-based decision because we, the adults, didn’t understand the devices. As we all became more comfortable with these devices and we saw the potentialfor educational benefits, we began to relax rules and search for ways to integrate them into the learning experience.

Unfortunately, we didn’t fully account for the teen brain. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, adolescents are more likely to act on impulse and less likely to think before they act or pause to consider the consequences of their actions based on the stage of brain development they are in.

This means that students are less likely to be able to tune out the constant barrage of social media notifications or say “no” to the next game of Fortnite and set appropriate boundaries to differentiate work and play time. If we are being honest, adults can’t do it either so why would we expect children to do so?

As a district we are not limiting access to personal technology from a place of fear because we don’t understand it, but from a place of understanding because we do understand it.

 What action is Bexley Schools taking?

Starting in August 2019, students will not be permitted to bring personal electronic devices (phones, smartwatches, headphones, etc.) into classrooms unless there is a documented accommodation for a student. Students need an excuse to disconnect and we are that excuse.

As part of the Bexley Blueprint and district technology plans, the district is increasing the number of district owned devices next year, in particular laptops and tablets. This will allow needed technology to come into the classrooms than our previous model of utilizing computer labs and reducing the reliance on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Bexley Education Foundation, through both impact and classroom grants, continues to support innovative learning spaces and practices in the district – including their most recent grant that will allow high school students without access at home to check out devices for school use.  

We know that you count on cell phones to be sure your child can communicate with you on their way to and from school.  We’ll encourage and support them in storing cellphone in their lockers. They can use them before and school.   

What have our students said?

In April 2019, nationally recognized internet safety speaker Jesse Weinberger spoke to all students in grade 6-10 during grade level assemblies and hosted a parent night. During these assemblies, she collected anonymous data about student use of devices and social media.

  • 99% of our 6-10th graders own a smartphone.
  • 67% of our students admitted to sometimes having “trouble putting down their device.
  • 97% of our students reported that they have unrestricted access to YouTube at home.
  • 70% of students reported that their parents do not set limits for their device usage.
  • 85% of our students said they were “made uncomfortable or scared by online content.”
  • Our younger students are participating in more streaming services than older students (up to 70% in 6th grade). Many of these platforms are the most dangerous for children and share the most personally identifiable information.
  • 57% of our students said they wished social media had never been invented.

When asked what they wanted their parents to know, of the students who responded:

  • 41% said kids should not have social media
  • 21% said kids should not have phones
  • 38% said parents should set limits/ increase controls

After the presentation, students were given a chance to write down a change they will make as a result.

  • 9% said they would block strangers
  • 11% said they would change settings
  • 4% said they would watch less porn
  • 6% said they would stop sexting
  • 26% said they would delete at least one app
  • 7% said they would cover their device cameras
  • 28% said they would limit device time
  • 9% said they would limit content

What do we need from you?

  • Please support our efforts by not expecting your student to access their phone during the day. If there is an emergency, you can contact them through the school office. The Maryland office phones are staffed from 7:30 AM-3:30 PM each day.  We will continue to get your important messages to your child.  
  • Consider using parental controls to only allow the most essential apps for communication or instruction during the school day.
  • If your child does not currently have a device, consider your ability/willingness to monitor it before purchasing one. There is no school-based need for a smartphone.
  • If you do feel that your student needs a phone, do not purchase a smartphone. For phone calls and texting, a “dumb phone” is just fine. Or if you really want to antagonize them, a “Zack Morris” phone (Saved by the Bell) is a great choice.
  • Students will be able to bring phones to school to let parents know they have arrived or about after school plans. They just cannot access them during instructional time.

The first element of the Bexley Blueprint is to “Build upon a student-centered learning culture”, which means that we must put students first in each decision we make. We believe these decisions put students’ academic, social, and emotional needs first. Childhood is a gift and we need to protect that for our kids.