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Galesburg District 205 cracks down on cell phone usage during school day

Rich Egger

Cell phones are a major distraction to students -- even when silenced.

The temptation to text a friend or play a video game in class can overpower even the most self-disciplined teen.

The rules regarding cell phone usage at Galesburg Junior Senior High School were loose before District 205 implemented a new policy this past academic year.

"Last year, it was kind of a free-for-all,” said junior Colten Huft. “You could be on your phone unless teachers were really strict about it. Certain teachers would implement the policy, but others didn't really care."

The casually enforced policy led to problems.

Junior high English teacher Tara Denhart said students often were not engaged in classroom discussions, looking at their laps where they held their phones.

Denhart added that the problems extended beyond not paying attention.

"I did see a lot of drama mixed up because of texting each other . . . [and] social media issues. I've seen kids wanting to fight each other because of it or kids upset because they've lost friends from it. Really, those are the downfalls of it,” Denhart said.

The new policy clamps down on cell phone use during school hours. Phones were taken away for first and second violations, and students were required to meet with administrators at the end of the day before getting the phone back.

Upon a third violation, administrators took the phone, and a parent had to come to school to retrieve it.

Administrators said the new policy removed the gray areas regarding expectations and established clear rules.

Eighth-grader Sophia Huizenga said the policy worked well.

"Last year you really weren't supposed to have your phone out, but this year no one has their phone out and it's enforced. And you don't want to have your phone taken away if it's out, so you just keep your phone away and you actually have to socialize with people,” Huizenga said.

Huizenga was not the only one who saw people interacting more.

High school social studies teacher Jake Miller said students talked to each other instead of being buried in their phones.

"I've noticed interactions, like in the cafeteria, being much more verbal, much more social, and in my classroom specifically I've had less instances of students just blatantly ignoring what's going on by looking at their phone,” Miller said, adding there seemed to be fewer confrontations between students.

“I know that part of that was due to not having the immediate access to film things which seems to be something these students are wanting to do nowadays."

Administrators said they expected some pushback against the policy. But, for the most part, it did not happen.

Junior high school principal Nick Young noted students could still contact their parents if necessary.

"If a kid needed to get a hold of a parent, if we were in a situation, they'd still have the ability to. That's why we liked our policy because it was kind of a happy medium ground. You're still able to carry it. It's still your phone. We're not interested in going into students' phones. We don't want that. We just don't want them in the classroom,” he said.

Young said that with the new policy, students learned that—from bell to bell—their cell phones were supposed to be off and out of sight.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.