Status Update: Cellphones in Lunch

By Spencer Schultz and Scottie O'Bryan

Staff Writers

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Last spring, the Jamesville-DeWitt High School Slate was elected in part because of their promise to change J-D’s strict cell phone policy around the school. Though change was achieved, the new policies failed to leave the cafeteria, leaving the rest of the school unchanged, at least for now.

Principal Paul Gasparini reassures that the modifications to the old cell phone policy were “in the best interests of the school.”  “Teachers from each department talked about the changes and through several (Building Level Team) meetings, we decided to take the course of action that became the new cell phone policy,” says Mr. Gasparini.

Slate Co-President, senior Josh Gutmaker, initially began talks of changing the cell phone policy in May of 2014. Student government proposed that the use of cell phones be allowed in the lunchrooms and hallway during the Slate’s campaign in 2014.  At the time, any cell phone use during the school day was prohibited. “We talked to a lot of kids about how we would try to get our new policy passed and what we as students would have to give up for it to be passed,” says senior Co-President Hunter Siegel-Cook.

The Slate reached a consensus with the BLT, a collaborative “building level team” of students, teachers and administrators, earlier this year, and then the cell phone policy was approved by Mr. Gasparini. “It has been a long, grueling process that has taken over nine months of hard work and I feel that the policy is great so far,” says Siegel-Cook.

Although the Slate approves of how the new policy turned out, some students feel that Slate was unsuccessful in their attempt to create a more lenient policy. “I feel that the new cell phone policy doesn’t really change anything. We couldn’t use cell phones in the hall before, and we still can’t now,” says freshman Ryan Evans. “Even before the policy was put into action, most lunch monitors would just turn the other way if they saw people using their phones,” says Evans.

Most students, however, are still appreciative of the Slate’s creation of a new cell phone policy. “Just personally, it is great to be able to freely use my phone during lunch to connect with my parents, without worrying about being caught by a teacher,” says senior Maria Bussone.

Initially, reluctant students felt that the use of cellphones in the cafeteria would limit face to face conversation among friends. Students have found, however, that phones actually create a “third dimension of communication,” according to Siegel-Cook. “I feel cellphones are a great conversation starter if you want to show a friend a photo or take a Snapchat so I think it actually helps, not hurts conversations,” says Bussone.

Lunch monitors have reported no issues with the new cell phone policy thus far. “I see a lot of people using their phones, but there’s been nothing crazy. So far, it’s been a smooth transition,” says lunch monitor and science teacher Rich Adler. Mr. Gasparini agrees that students are treating  the new rules well in the lunch room: “students are being very respectful and appreciative of the policy.”

Though the cafeteria is free for cell phone use, some teachers felt that use of them in the hallways would disrupt the atmosphere of the school. Thus, the BLT decided that restrictions of use in hallways should be retained. “What we found when we looked at other schools was that when students do use their phones in the hallways, they end up being used in the classroom,” says Mr. Gasparini. “We wanted to make certain that when students are entering class, they are ready for learning and not still texting,” says Mr. Gasparini.

Despite the administration’s efforts, some teachers report an increase in phone use in the classroom. “More students have cell phones out on their desks than they used to before the new phone policy. Students seem to think it’s acceptable to have their phones out, but the policy is only for the cafeteria,” says math teacher Diane Huyck.

Junior Luke Rowe disagrees, as he feels that the usage of phones during lunch periods has decreased phone use during classes. “We can leave being on our phones to lunch, so then during class we won’t feel the necessity to use our phones as much,” says Rowe.

Other teachers have noticed no difference in student phone use in class. “I haven’t seen much of a change; there are times when I ask kids to use their phone for something in my class,” says science teacher Michael Keefe. “I see the reasoning to why the school still doesn't allow phones in class or the halls, though. People are afraid that during tests a student will be texting and his friend will be out in the hall giving him answers,” says Mr. Keefe.

Freshman Maya Frieden feels that the benefits of cell phone use during lunch are great, however, Frieden is actually glad that use of cellphones in halls still is not permitted. “I think everything would just be too chaotic if everyone was on their phone. People in the halls would be too involved in their phones to be able to concentrate on walking and not disrupting people trying to get to class,” says Frieden. Junior Kim Driesen agrees, saying that usage in halls would be “disruptive” to classes going on.

Many upperclassmen are disappointed that the changes to the policy were not enacted sooner. “It’s unfortunate that I won’t really be able to experience the expanded phone use, but I’m glad that the change occurred at all,” says senior Dylan Volk. “Most other schools in the area, like Cicero-North Syracuse and Westhill, have had more liberal cell phone policies for a while, and it is nice J-D is finally catching on,” says Driesen.

While no future arrangements are currently being planned by the Slate to further amend the cell phone policy, changes are not at all completely out of the question. “J-D is always changing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other parts of the school allow cell phones,” says Evans.

Before that day comes, however, J-DHS students must keep on the same track they are on so far. If students continue to obey the rules and the staff remains in approval and has minimum issues, there is a better chance that students’ wishes to further the cell phone policy are put into play. “So far, the cell phone policy has been a complete success, and I am confident it will stay that way,” says Mr. Gasparini.