Still No Cellphones?

In an elite school that boasts some of the best computer science and technology classes in the nation, the administration's approach toward electronics remains surprisingly obsolete.

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By Klaire Geller

The late bell rings in unison with a buzzing in your pocket as you tread past the second-floor scanners. You glance discreetly at your cellphone, only to find the pressing alert is a mere Facebook notification. The relief, however, is short-lived as a teacher materializes in the periphery of your vision. After an awkward exchange and a disapproving frown, your electronic is on its way to the dean’s office.

Getting cheated by the cellphone policy is an unofficial rite of passage for every Stuyvesant student. In an elite school that boasts some of the best computer science and technology classes in the nation, the administration's approach toward electronics remains surprisingly obsolete.

The newest NYCDOE cellphone policy, which came into effect in March 2015, permitted the usage of “cellphones and other electronic devices [in] the building.” But, backlash from a prior cheating scandal forced Stuyvesant to prolong its draconian cellphone policy. The hotly debated policy, endorsed by a majority of the Stuyvesant administration as well as Mayor Bloomberg, was an attempt to crack down on cheating at a time when it was prevalent at Stuyvesant.

Years later, current students are subject to the same ineffectual policy. A recent study by the Pew Research Center finds that even in schools that ban electronics entirely, up to 58 percent of students continue to use phones, an insubstantial decrease from 71 percent in schools with no such restrictions. Between the clean slates and multiple offenders, no one truly stops using their cellphones in school; they just get better at hiding it.

Instead of continuing to enforce this policy, it’s time for the administration to start vouching for a more positive alternative. Other specialized high schools, such as Brooklyn Tech and Staten Island Tech, have begun integrating cell phones into their curricula. Students are encouraged to download software that allows easy access to art programs, spreadsheets, and dictionaries, as well as to use cellphones as a medium for research and internet access when no other electronics are available. Teaching students how to use cellphones productively encourages participation and even saves money. The National Education Association dubbed cellphones “cost effective for schools.”

Similarly, about 73 percent of teachers agree that cellphones serve as helpful learning aids. Use of these technologies in classrooms can motivate disengaged students, improving their relationship with the administration. Instead of a hostile environment in which students feel a lack of trust from teachers forced to follow the regulations set by the cellphone policy, a more relaxed atmosphere is fostered.

The strict regulations of the cellphone policy are enforced through a two-strike system. A first offense requires the student to wait until after 10th period to retrieve their phone. For students who are involved in extracurricular activities or have lengthy commutes, this can produce an inconvenient deviation to an already packed schedule.

A second offense demands that the student’s legal guardian retrieve the device. This works to unfairly punish the wrong person, causing interruptions in a busy work-life and unnecessary trips for legal guardians who reside far from the school.

When a guardian is unavailable, the student is forced to commute without a phone. Anything (being lost, extended train delays, a mugging) that transpires in the period of time their cellphone remains at school may have been easily defused by its presence. According to NBC News, up to 85 percent of students felt safer with a cellphone on their person. It’s a liability to essentially “disarm” students, as well as to deprive them of their peace of mind.

A better replacement for the current cellphone policy is a three-strike system, in which the harsher punishment of a guardian retrieving the device would only be necessary after three confiscations. Similarly, requiring a parent to be aware their child got their phone confiscated and having their consent to return it rather than their physical presence would be a step in the right direction.

Stuyvesant upholds an impressive reputation, but the cellphone policy hinders the sort of progress that sets apart our school from the rest. Antiquated policies that exist for the sake of trying to mend a once-tarnished reputation need to be revoked, the sooner the better.