July 23rd, 2024

Holy Spirit school division keeping eye on cell phone policy

By Cal Braid - Southern Alberta Newspapers Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on July 3, 2024.

Alberta’s minister of education Demetrios Nicolaides announced last month that in the upcoming 2024/2025 school year, the province will be implementing restrictions on personal mobile devices and access to social media in K-12 schools.

The Holy Spirit Catholic School Division welcomed the news, but admitted it won’t be much of a stretch beyond the rules it has already been internally imposing.

Ken Sampson, the division’s superintendent of schools, had a mixed reaction to the announcement.

“While there are cited disadvantages to cell phone use in classrooms, when used responsibly and under the direction of the teacher, they can be a powerful learning tool. That said, there was a growing need to have some parameters in place. We knew it would only be a matter of time before the government followed suit with other provinces that moved in the same direction,” he said.

“When not used responsibly and for instructional and learning purposes, there definitely were opportunities for cell phones to be used in ways that would distract students from engaging in their learning. Further, the potential for accessing social media during instructional times was always there. Interestingly, some of our schools already have a fairly robust practice in place guiding cell phone use in our schools and classrooms. All of our students sign digital citizenship and acceptable use agreements, and together with our administrative procedure, provide additional guidelines and expectations for our students.”

To some degree, the policy may be difficult to monitor and enforce. Sampson said, “It will require all parents understanding that this is now in a Ministerial Order and school authorities are required to enforce it, which in itself has the potential to drain instructional time. Appropriate consequences will need to be in place and communicated to students, parents, and staff.”

The division’s current procedures, as applied to the use of personally owned electronic devices (POEDs) during the school day and during any school-sanctioned event, on or off-campus, are already restrictive. The division’s Administrative Procedure 113 (AP 113) states:

– That POEDs are not to be operated by students during regularly scheduled instructional time, or during any school sponsored activity, such as an assembly or talk by a guest speaker, unless such use is approved by the classroom teacher to facilitate learning activities.

– POEDs are to be stored in silent mode during instructional and school sponsored activities.

– POEDs are not to be taken into test or examination settings.

– POEDs are never to be used in settings such as change rooms, washrooms, private counseling rooms, or any other settings that have the potential to violate a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

– As schools are not public buildings, the privacy of all individuals within the building must be protected at all times. Any digital images, recordings and/or videos that are taken of other students or staff at the school is done so with the explicit permission of the student(s)/staff involved and are to be shared (electronically via messaging, social media or any other means of file sharing) only with permission, and done so in a responsible, ethical manner.

– Students who bring POEDs to the school are expected to comply with all parts AP 113. Students who consistently refuse to comply with the division’s procedures for use of POEDs in the school setting may be subject to disciplinary measures detailed in the school’s rules.

– If Holy Spirit staff have reasonable grounds to believe that an electronic device contains evidence pertaining to a breach of the division’s student code of conduct and/or the school behaviour policy, it is the expectation that students make available to school administration the unaltered contents of the permanent and/or removable memory of their cellular phone or electronic device. Failure to make the contents available can be considered willful disobedience and is grounds for disciplinary action.

Staff and students are also subject to acceptable and responsible use guidelines. The procedure states, “The use of technology, whether that be personally owned digital devices or devices owned by the division, is a privilege and a distinct advantage when used responsibly. Failure to use technology responsibly and in a manner that demonstrates respect for others and themselves could result in cancellation of network privileges and may result in additional disciplinary or legal actions.”

Emergency protocol stipulations are included in the procedure, as is the division’s policy of non-liability for students’ POEDs.

AP 113 acknowledges the necessary role of digital connectivity, saying, “(It) is part of everyday life for our students; therefore, it is necessary to ensure students have the opportunity to access digital information, communication tools, and pursue lines of inquiry and interest in the academic disciplines and beyond, in a safe, responsible and informed manner. Technological literacy and proficiency are key to not only academic success, but also enabling students to connect to the global community beyond the school building. Empowering our students to bring their own technology into the classroom facilitates greater ownership of learning, collaboration, communication, creativity and personalized learning via devices that best suit their learning needs.”

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