High school teachers call for stricter cell phone policy in Lawrence school district

Share this post or save for later

More than 80 Lawrence educators have signed a petition for the district to implement a stricter cell phone policy, and six people advocated for it during the school board meeting Monday.

District teachers and staff told the board during public comment that students’ usage of their cell phones in class has reached an alarming state. They called the issue “disheartening,” “deflating,” “problematic” and more.

David Reber, Free State High School teacher, walked up to the microphone and proceeded to pull out his phone. He used the majority of his allotted three minutes pretending to text while disengaging with board members.

He wanted to send them a message.

“I’ve taught in this district coming up on 29 years,” Reber said. “And if it feels like I just wasted two minutes of your time playing on my phone instead of engaging with you, please multiply that feeling by 30 students, six hours a day, 175 days a year, and think about how that would feel.”

The district’s current policy states phones shouldn’t be out in class, but vagueness leads to inconsistencies across individual schools and classrooms, and teachers must use their discretion. Michelle Babcock, Lawrence High School teacher, said that prompts student and teacher conflict and takes away from instructional time.

“As staff members who witness these harms to our students every day, we’re here to raise awareness in our school community, because unless you have walked the halls or sat in high school classrooms in the smartphone era, chances are you don’t realize the extent to which cell phones and social media have harmed our students’ academic success, real-life social connections, and mental and physical health,” Babcock said.

Christina Leonard, English as a Second Language (ESL) paraeducator at LHS, said that during a semester this year, she noticed 90% of students in a class would be staring at their phones every day. She felt like only two or three students benefited from the teacher’s passionate lessons.

“Paras along with teachers are really struggling right now trying to get our students’ attention — trying to compete with cell phone screens, and the problem is rampant,” Leonard said. “Please help us rescue our students from this tyranny.”

Claudean McKellips, LHS special education teacher, said she’s witnessed students fight in school in retaliation against social media rumors being spread. She also said a student was texting a threat against their teacher. Both were traumatizing for all involved, she said.

Babcock suggested the district look into solutions that won’t cost much. For example, she said, other schools have required students to store their phones in alphabetized, padded crates at the start of class.

“We propose that student phones be stored in a designated area from the first bell until the last bell of the day,” the teachers’ petition states. “We propose forming a committee at the beginning of June 2024 composed of board members, administrators, faculty and staff members, and parents to select a suitable and cost-effective storage solution and create an equitable plan to be enacted this August 2024.”

Board President Kelly Jones said the board received the petition and that the district is actively addressing it. 

“Just to reiterate, the board policy committee is looking at cell phone policy,” Jones said. “There is no aversion to the request from the teachers, and we’ll certainly look at working with you to get something that’s better for you in your classroom.”

In other business, Superintendent Anthony Lewis is calling a community meeting to discuss safety following the shooting deaths of three local teens within 15 months. Read more about that at this link.

If our local journalism matters to you, please help us keep doing this work.
Don’t miss a beat … Click here to sign up for our email newsletters

Click here to learn more about our newsletters first

Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Latest Lawrence news:


Previous Article

Lawrence schools superintendent calls meeting on community safety

Next Article

Parts of Kansas once tried to secede and form ‘West Kansas.’ It helps explain our politics today