The Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) will vote on whether students will be allowed to use their cell phones during lunch, a change that would nullify the current ban on cell phones during school, in order to allow easier communication between students and parents. Student Member of the Board (SMOB) Quratul-Ann Malik proposed the change in policy earlier this month and the board will review it in June, according to Malik.
Malik proposed the policy change based on her experiences as a student at Watkins Mills High School. "This was an issue that I had noticed at my school," she said. "In my school experience, people didn't see what was necessary about banning cell phones and failed to enforce any policy currently in place. It is something that clearly needed to be changed and we have a lot of board members who support the real intention behind it."
Currently in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), students are permitted to carry cell phones during school but cannot use them until after school. The proposed policy would allow students to make and receive cell phone calls during lunch, which would reduce the reliance on school phones as a means of communication, according to Malik. "There used to be pay phones at school," she said. "However, [the school] got rid of them because of cell phones. This then poses a problem because if you need to make a phone call you have to go to the main office, which is an inconvenience for you and for people in the main office."
Despite Malik's enthusiasm for the proposal, the policy change has met opposition from many parties. Principal Darryl Williams disagrees with the suggested policy, arguing that in school, cell phones are distracting. "I am against any policy allowing students to use their cell phones during the day," he said. "I like the current policy of turned off and out of sight."
National School Safety and Services (NSSS) Consultant Ken Trump agrees that cell phones should not be permitted in school. "Restricting cell phones during the bulk of the day and opening up select times, such as during lunch periods or when students are in class changes, could make enforcement more subjective," Trump said.
The NSSS actively challenges students' use of cell phones in school because of the possible implications of having them during an emergency. "Cell phone use in an emergency can create less safe conditions," Trump said, explaining that the ability to communicate rapidly may cause the spread of dangerous rumors. "Student desires to have and use cell phones in school primarily focus around convenience, and decisions around cell phone policies should focus on safety implications, not convenience or socialization."
Others who disagree with the proposed policy believe the change would not make a significant difference in schools. "For schools that have open lunch, the students are obviously already allowed to use their cell phones during lunch, and most students discreetly use their cell phones during lunch anyway," Louis Wilen of the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County said. "It would be difficult to find another policy change that would have so little effect on so many students."
While Malik does acknowledge that students disregard the current rule, she believes that the change is necessary for students who choose to follow the current cell phone policies. "There's no way you can get messages from the main office from your parents and there often becomes a long line to use the office phone if there becomes a need to contact parents," she said. "It's a practical matter."