Cara Carmody, an Oak Park parent and substitute teacher in District 97, said the strangest thing happened when her son transitioned from elementary school to Brooks Middle School roughly three years ago.
"He went from having never used his cellphone to texting us at all times of the school day," Carmody said. "We'd get texts all day long and we kept saying, 'How are you able to text us?' And it turned out that he could use his phone in class."
That ease of cellphone usage might soon be a thing of the past. In a statement released June 17, Chris Jasculca, D97's communications director, said administrators at Brooks and Julian have been meeting for "the past six to eight weeks on the creation of a school-level policy that will call for cellphones to be turned off and put away at all times during the school day."
Jasculca said the principals at Brooks and Julian plan to update families on the new policy and procedures related to cellphone use in July.
"Both of our middle schools understand how critical it is for students to have access to learning environments that are inclusive, supportive and feature minimal distractions," Jasculca explained.
The policy, which is scheduled to go into effect during the 2019-20 school year, would be a sharp about-face from the status quo. Unlike D97 elementary schools — which require that the phones be off and put away at all times during the school day — middle-school students are allowed to use their phones in the lunchroom and in class, as long as a supervising teacher grants permission.
The absence of an ironclad "away for the day" rule, similar to what D97 elementary schools, and nearby school districts, have on the books, has resulted in the proliferation of cellphones — and, inevitably, distractions — some parents say.
Carmody's concerns about her children's cellphone usage at Brooks (while her son graduated this year, her daughter is a rising sixth-grader at the school), prompted her to start a change.org petition back in February. The petition has so far garnered nearly 300 signatures.
Carmody referenced nearby school districts like Forest Park District 91, which doesn't allow cellphones, iPods or other electronic devices in school buildings at all.
"Every 43 minutes of class time matters for all children and, in particular, children who are facing the additional obstacles that can come with academic and/or economic struggles," Carmody wrote in her petition.
Many parents and community members agree.
Oak Park resident Jeanne Nohalty said she recently hosted a group of middle-school parents to discuss "unique approaches to healthy phone and social media usage."
Nohalty said a common refrain during the meeting was "the daytime text from their child," adding that "the general consensus amongst parents was that cellphones do not belong in the classroom. Beyond the class, there was general agreement that phones do not belong in the lunchroom or playground either."
Aimée Davis, co-PTO president at Mann, and Marcus Davis, former member of Oak Park and River Forest High School's Community Council, said they both believe "there should be a cellphone-free environment at all D97 schools" and that OPRF should consider strengthening its policy on cellphone use as well.
For Patrick F. Durgin, the parent of an Oak Park elementary school student and a college instructor, the effects of constant screen time can linger well beyond middle school and high school.
"I teach undergraduate and graduate students at a Chicago-area private college, and first-year college students from communities like Oak Park comprise a substantial part of the population I serve," he wrote in an email. "These kids are fresh out of high school. I have been doing this since 2003 and have seen a steady and coincidental rise of personal electronic device usage, social media, and pervasive, detrimental damage to students' attention spans.
"Cellphones have no pedagogical value whatsoever and they alter young people's capacities to use educational resources, to articulate critical thinking, to collaborate, and to think recursively. … A district-wide policy banning cellphones from schools is a simple solution. Nothing short of that would satisfy me. The detrimental effects of cellphones in the classroom are real."
Answer Book 2019
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