• Chuck Clark
    “Coming together is a beginning. Staying together is a process. Working together is winning.” Henry Ford

Salutary Neglect: Best Neglected

At their July 9 meeting the Chicopee School Committee voted 11-0 to allow cell phone use at Chicopee High and Chicopee Comp next year.

Because cell phone use proved too disruptive at Chicopee Academy, students there have been denied the privilege. Middle and elementary school students are banned from bringing phones to school.

As reported on MassLive, 7/17/14, “A one-year trial to allow students’ limited cell phone use in the high schools was mostly successful, but the School Committee declined to make the policy permanent.”

The Committee agreed to extend the policy for a year starting in September 2014.

“It worked. The number of reported confiscations and violations (of unauthorized cell phone use) was down from the previous year,” Superintendent Rege said.

However, I know from my personal experience and based on conversations with other teachers at CHS, the number of high school students who have cell phones and bring them to school appears to have increased. Students increasingly use them to make or receive phone calls; some take pictures or videos. Many accessorize their outfit with ear-buds and use their cell phone to listen to music in the halls between class, while in the library, and during class. Most use their phones to text.

Is it a distraction?

“In my room, the Do Now activity is to place all backpacks and bags under the desk or on the floor. This doesn’t stop kids from using cell phones but it make it harder for them to hide it, and they try,” said one high school teacher.

The no cell phone conversation between teacher and student takes time away from teaching and learning. Figuring out how to violate the policy develops the kind of clandestine skills better suited to the CIA than to passing biology.

When students refuse to cooperate, the teacher asks for the phone. If the student willingly turns over the phone it is often returned to the student at the end of the period or the end of the day. In this case most teachers do not write up an incident report. Some students refuse. Those students are written up. Those who refuse constitute the number of reported confiscations and violations reported to the School Committee. That number does not accurately reflect the extent of cell phone abuse.

Why aren’t more students written up?

The consequences for violating the policy are minimal and laxly enforced. When a phone is confiscated, an after school session (detention) is assigned and a call goes home. If the student cuts the session, he receives two demerits. When he is written up for abusing the policy, he receives two demerits. The punishment is little more than a slap on the wrist and doesn’t appear to change student behavior. It may even embolden it.

Because the policy is approved year to year, it gives the students the responsibility of following it properly. If too many violations are found, the School Committee can cancel the privilege.

“It places the onus of the policy on the kids,” Superintendent Richard W. Rege Jr. said.

I think it places the burden of enforcing the policy on high school teachers. For whatever reason, we are guilty of a form of salutary neglect.

‘Salutary neglect’ is vocabulary term taught in US History 10. It refers to the 17th – 18th century unofficial British policy of avoiding strict enforcement of parliamentary laws regulating trade. Because there were no effective enforcement agencies colonists openly disregarded the laws.

The policy of lax enforcement established a precedent. British rule was thereafter challenged by American colonists and led to the American Revolution.

As a teacher at one of the city high schools, I believe we significantly under reported the severity of the situation resulting in the the Administration and the Committee being misinformed about the extent of inappropriate cell phone use. By not writing up offenders, high school teachers have inadvertently extended the policy with the result that teaching and learning will be more challenging than necessary.

For students at Chicopee High and Comp, having a cell phone in school is a privilege and using it is the goal. Seeing that it is used only when appropriate is our job as educators. If we do that then maybe we can help change this well intended but flawed policy and get on with the business of education.

Is there a workable cell phone policy? Send us your suggestions and we will share them.