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School boards already enforcing cellphone restrictions before provincial ban

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A ban on the use of cellphones in Ontario classrooms came into effect on Nov. 4.

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But representative of both local school boards say they have been already enforcing restrictions.

The provincial government announced in August it would implement a ban on personal mobile devices in classrooms or during “instructional time.” Exceptions to the ban will be made if the devices are required for educational purposes, medical purposes, or to support special needs.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the ban’s aim is to keep students focused on the subject matter being taught but the province hasn’t said how teachers should enforce it.

“The use of cellphones in the classrooms doesn’t change for Grand Erie students today,” said Kimberly Newhouse, a spokesperson for the Grand Erie District School Board. “Cellphone use has always been for educational purposes only.

“Grand Erie educators and school administrators will continue to use their professional judgment when it comes to cellphone use in the classroom. Any misuse of cellphones by students in the classroom would be addressed through our progressive discipline policy.”

Mike McDonald, director of education for the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board, said that while the board has no specific cellphone use policy, each school has protocols to ensure that, during instruction time, devices are “only to be used for instructional purposes.”

The province says that, in a consultation conducted earlier this year, 97 per cent of respondents, including students, parents and teachers, supported the ban.

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Zachary Garbaty, a student trustee with the Grand Erie board and a Grade 12 student at North Park Collegiate, said he rarely uses his cellphone at school for anything other than school work, such as pulling up math notes online. Some teachers use game-based learning platforms, such as Kahoot!, as a way to quiz students on material taught in the classroom, he said.

But many students do use their phones to access social media and for other personal purposes, said Garbaty.

“It’s a problem, for sure, of students being distracted and not paying attention.”

But Garbaty said he thinks a ban will be “incredibly hard to enforce.”

“That’s a lot of work for a teacher if there are 30 kids in a class.”

Alexandra Hauser, a Grade 12 student at McKinnon Park Secondary School in Caledonia, who is also a Grand Erie student trustee, agreed that “quite a few students are looking at their phones and not paying attention in class.”

“It’s an issue students and teachers are continually facing and it’s hurting our education.”

Although she supports restrictions on cellphone use in schools, Hauser said she thinks the outright ban may be “a little aggressive.”

McDonald said cellphones are a useful educational tool and part of the school board’s role is to “expand students’ ability to use it as a research tool” and educate them on how it shouldn’t be used.

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