A rural Manitoba school division is banning cell phones for K-8 students when the 2024-25 school year kicks off, and while some applaud the move others are not planning to follow the new guidelines.

The Steinbach-based Hanover School Division (HSD) said that after monitoring the results of a cell phone ban pilot project at the Stonybrook Middle School this past school year, the division has now voted to implement a cell phone ban for all K-8 students.

When kids return to school in September, K-8 students cannot bring a cell phone into any HSD school, unless they have been granted an exemption for medical or other reasons.

“Students in Grades K-8 will be expected to leave their phones at home,” the division said.

“Exceptions will be made for students with documented medical needs and other extenuating circumstances, ensuring necessary accommodations are in place.”

HSD trustees voted in favour of the ban last week at the final board meeting before summer break, after what the board said was a “successful pilot project at Stonybrook Middle School this past year, and positive feedback from our school communities.”

“By implementing a cell phone-free policy, we create a culture of attentiveness, active participation, and respectful interaction among students and teachers, significantly enhancing the learning experience,” HSD said.

HSD said there are so far no plans to implement a cell phone ban in high schools.

But some parents are already speaking out in opposition to the ban, and saying that with cell phones now so common for people of all ages, they oppose the idea of not being able to contact their kids directly.

“I find it to be a safety hazard,” Korissa Leigh, a mother to multiple children in HSD schools said. “My children miss the bus catchment by around 100 metres, so their fellow classmates who live down the street are able to catch the bus. Walking to and from school has already posed risks to my children, and after certain scenarios, I bought my children phones.

“I don’t need the HSD to parent my children regarding cell phones. It’s my choice as a parent to do what I think is right regarding my children’s safety. I can say without a doubt, my household will not be following this policy.”

Leigh also questioned what would happen if a school with K-8 students went into lockdown and parents were not able to contact their children and check on their well-being.

“I get they don’t want parents to panic, but I have a right as a parent to know what type of situation my children are in at all times,” she said.

Parent Tori Firth, who has a kid starting in an HSD middle school in the fall, said she is also against the ban and said she will not follow it.

“My daughter will take her phone to middle school,” Firth said. “She won’t be using it, but she will always have access to it in case of emergencies. Anybody who has a problem with it can take it up with me, because she’s not going to walk to and from school without a way to contact for help.”

But one parent whose child attended the school where the pilot project ban was in effect last year said although she understands parent’s concerns, she said the results were mostly positive, and she thinks the ban will ultimately be a good thing for students division-wide, and something that parents will get used to and come to accept.

“The mental and social health of kids this past year has gone up so much,” parent Lara Wieler said. “Kids were able to be more focused on studies and what was happening in class without having a phone to distract them, or have any bullying online during school hours.

“A couple of the positive impacts of the cell phone ban would be a happier morale in the school and better communication with staff and parents. Kids have to interact in person with kids, and those who don’t have cell phones were able to still have friends and have fun, be kids, without feeling left out.

“The entire school seemed to be doing a lot better overall this year than in years past.”

HSD says they are asking parents to contact their child’s principal in early September if they have any questions or need any clarification regarding the new policy.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 03, 2024 at 15:10

This item reprinted with permission from    The Sun    Winnipeg, Manitoba
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