Eastern Hancock dials back student cellphone policy

GREENFIELD — Beginning Monday, students at Eastern Hancock High School will have more freedom to use their cellphones throughout the school day.

The school is testing a proposed change to its cellphone policy, allowing students to use mobile devices during passing periods and homeroom.

It’s a welcome change to students that brings the school in line with other local corporation policies.

School officials began pondering the changes after two seniors proposed more leniency as part of a class project.

Cole Allen and Austin Lacy decided to propose the change for their government class project, which required them to choose a policy or law they were passionate about changing.

“I just thought the cellphone policy … was easy to fix,” Lacy said. “We see Principal (Dave) Pfaff every day; it was something easy we could get changed. It affects everyone.”

The current policy prohibits students from using cellphones and other electronic communication devices during the school day. They can use them only during their lunch periods in the cafeteria; otherwise, the phones have to be shut off and out of sight.

Pfaff said enforcing such a policy has at times felt like a losing battle.

“The kids are so connected to their phones, they’re having a hard time following these rules,” Pfaff said.

And teachers are having to spend too much time enforcing the rules, he added.

Working with student officers and faculty, school officials drafted a policy that would allow students to use cellphones during passing periods and homeroom.

During class time, however, the phones have to be put away as to not distract the student and other classmates.

Phones can’t be used to take photos or record anything during school hours unless permission is granted. And the same penalties will be in effect — the first time a student uses a cellphone when it’s prohibited, the phone will be confiscated until the end of the day.

The second offense will result in confiscation and detention, and parents will be notified. The third offense and any after will result in a Friday night school, confiscation and notification of parents.

Student officers hope allowing students to check text messages and social media during passing periods will keep them from being tempted to do so during class.

“It gave them more options instead of having to sneak it and distract during class,” said senior Rachel Boaz.

The proposed change goes into effect Monday and won’t revert to the old policy unless students are unable to follow the rules.

“This is going to be a teachable moment for the kids,” Pfaff said. “There’s a right time and a wrong time to use their phone.”

The proposed policy change would bring Eastern Hancock in line with the policies of other county schools.

Greenfield-Central and New Palestine high schools already allow their students to use cellphones during passing periods and in the classroom, while Mt. Vernon High School has a strict no-phone policy.

“8:35 to 3:30, they need to be powered down and completely out of sight,” said Greg Roach, MVHS assistant principal.

The longstanding policy, Roach said, is designed for school safety, to cut down on communication regarding drugs or violence. Educationally, he added, the school is trying to “eliminate the drama and bullying” that comes through texts and social media.

“Sometimes it’s the parent sending the text to their student that’s causing the violation,” Roach said. “We always tell them to call us; we’ll get (the child) out of class, and you can talk to them.”

Greenfield-Central relaxed its policies in 2012, allowing students to bring their own devices — phones and computers — into the classroom for educational purposes.

Today, it’s up to the teacher on whether students can use their cellphones in their classroom. Greenfield-Central students are also allowed to use their phones at lunch and in the passing periods— which can sometimes lead to minor collisions.

“You can see kids with their heads down, and they’re zoomed in and focused; they’re paying more attention to that than they are walking the halls,” said Brent Oliver, Greenfield-Central High School dean of students.

Still, cellphone policy could become more stringent in the near future: Greenfield-Central students will be issued school laptops in the 2015-16 school year, so the theory of students using their phones for educational purposes in the classroom might become a moot point.

At New Palestine High School, where students already have school-issued laptops, teens are also allowed to use their phones in the classroom for educational purposes, as well as in the halls and at lunch. That’s because the school laptops sometimes block websites that teachers need for their lessons.

“We have certain things blocked that they can’t get onto on the computers,” said Miles Hercamp, New Palestine High School assistant principal. “(But) I’ve been in education long enough to know 100 percent of the time they’re not using their cellphones for research.”

When is cell phone usage allowed

Starting Monday, students at Eastern Hancock High School will have more freedom to use their cell phones throughout the day.

Currently, school policy prohibits students from using their phones throughout the school day, except for during lunch.

On Monday, students won’t get in trouble if they’re using the phones during passing period and homeroom, but they still can’t be on them during class time.