At its Aug. 19 meeting, the Saint Peter School Board took care of back-to-school business.
Most agenda items were quickly and unanimously approved without much discussion, with the longest part of the meeting simply an update on minor changes to the district’s school handbooks. Of these changes, one that received the most discussion was the district’s cell phone use policy.
According to Annette Engeldinger, St. Peter High School principal, staff and students will be “really reviewing” the high school’s cell phone policy throughout this year. The high school received a roughly $3,000 grant from the Mankato Clinic Foundation in May, with the funds going toward the purchase of “CellSlip” pouches for each classroom. These pouches utilize a radio frequency identification (RFID) material to block cell phones from receiving cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals. The high school received enough funds to purchase CellSlip pouches for every classroom, though teachers are not required to use the pouches.
“Kids can come in, grab a CellSlip, put their phone away and still have their phone in front of them,” Engeldinger said, noting that some students feel more comfortable having their phone nearby even if they’re not using it. “We’re using them this year in each classroom and reviewing the rest of our policy. As we become used to kids having their own personal devices, we’re rethinking our wide open policy on that.”
As of the 2018-19 handbook, students could have their cell phones on their person, with some restrictions regarding their usage. Cell phones were allowed before and after school, during passing times between scheduled classes and during student lunch periods. Cell phone use was not allowed during testing times, excused restroom breaks, or excused visited to lockers during class times.
Engeldinger said teachers and school staff will continue to discuss whether it is “developmentally appropriate” for students to have access to their cell phones throughout the day, as opposed to storing them in their lockers during class.
“That’s something that our building leadership team and teachers will really be talking about,” she said.
The district’s other principals also weighed in on cell phone usage during the meeting, with North Elementary Principal Darin Doherty mentioning that many of his students have their own phones.
“There are certainly kids who have cell phones, but they’re pretty responsible with them,” he said. “They’re popping them out at the end of the day. We haven’t had any reports from teachers who’re saying they’re distracting.”
Engeldinger added that the district will be working to engage parents on the topic as well. She noted that they showed the cell phone documentary “Screenagers” to parents last year, and this year, they’ll be showing its sequel, “Screenagers II.”
“We’re going to be continuing that conversation,” she said. “It really is becoming a thing for kids.”