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Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - September 27, 2019

No phone zone

Educators, parents, youth debate how to handle students' 'distracting' access to cellphones in schools

by Elena Kadvany

Every year on the first day of school, longtime Gunn High School teacher Josh Paley throws his cellphone against the wall.

He does this to illustrate a double standard — that students are expected to put their phones away during class while teachers are not. He then explains his classroom cellphone policy, which is more restrictive than the school's. He asks students to put their phones away in numbered pouches that hang on the wall for the duration of class. If he catches anyone with their phone out, he confiscates it for the day.

"The reality is that the cellphone is such a distraction," Paley said in an interview. "The temptation to go and use it is patently obvious."

Paley is one of many teachers at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools who have devised their own ways to deal with what they describe as increasingly distracting cellphone use during class. Others ask students to put their phones into backpacks and put the backpacks at the back of the classroom. One teacher has asked students to put their phones into a basket prior to taking tests to prevent cheating (which one student reportedly circumvented by bringing more than one phone to class that day).

While cellphones have become a pervasive part of daily life, some high schools are taking steps to curtail their presence during school hours. Last year, San Lorenzo High School banned phones during the school day, citing research showing the detrimental effects of phones on learning and students' well-being. Inappropriate cellphone use had become the East Bay school's top discipline issue and was damaging relationships between students and staff, according to school leaders.

"We believe this change will make a dramatic difference in our school climate, culture and academic achievement," Allison Silvestri, then-principal of San Lorenzo High School, wrote in a letter to families.

San Mateo High School followed suit this fall in response to teachers who were at the end of their ropes with monitoring students' phone use. Post-ban, both high schools say students are more engaged during class and interacting more with classmates during breaks and lunch. Teachers and parents in neighboring districts, including in Palo Alto, are watching closely to see how the new policy goes at these schools.

While there is no concrete proposal for a cellphone ban in the Palo Alto Unified School District, there is an appetite for one among some frustrated teachers and a group of parents organizing around the issue. But others, including students, defend cellphones as valuable educational tools as well as an opportunity to teach teenagers responsible use before they go on to college or a career.

Having teachers decide

Both Palo Alto high schools' cellphone polices are laid out in their student handbooks. At Gunn, electronic drives — including cellphones, smart watches and computers — are not permitted in any class unless allowed by the teacher.

Paly prohibits use of social media, texting, messaging, gaming or streaming videos on devices at school. The handbook notes, "Students may find games, applications and social media available on cellphones addictive. In these cases, the education of such students is greatly disrupted, and this behavior may lead to further problems." Paly teachers and staff can confiscate phones if they are "judged to be disruptive," the handbook states.

At the private all-girls Castilleja School, middle schoolers are not allowed to use cellphones during the school day without adult permission and high schoolers can only use them during free time outside of classrooms, the student handbook states. Students who use phones "inappropriately" during school hours may have them taken away.

At Paly and Gunn, much is left to the discretion of individual teachers. Paley, who has taught computer science and mathematics at Gunn for 18 years, implemented the pouches last year. They make a difference, he said. He's supportive of a school-wide ban.

"What I really want is the student to be present in my classroom — present, alert, engaged in any kind of discussion we have, engaged with fellow students," he said.

Even as a computer science teacher, he doesn't see a need for smartphones at school.

"Until people have really good ideas on how to use the technology so that it's not more disruptive than it is productive," Paley said, "I want them out of the classroom."

Gunn's history and math departments, as well as the Focus on Success program for students who need additional academic support, exclusively use the pouches, according to teacher Marc Igler, who is also vice president of the teachers union. Teachers have asked the administration to develop a broader policy, he said. Gunn Principal Kathie Laurence did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story. Paly Principal Adam Paulson did not respond to emailed questions. Superintendent Don Austin declined an interview request.

Igler, who teaches English, typically relies on a "stern warning and lots of follow-up" on cellphone use during class but said he's going to try out the pouches with new freshman and sophomore classes next semester. Several teachers said they find upperclassmen to be better at self-regulating their phone use.

"It's almost like freshmen and sophomores, they can't resist it," Igler said. "The unconscious pull of the cellphone can be a problem."

The fight over phones can also create tension between students and teachers and damage the classroom dynamic, Igler said.

While a campus-wide ban would be a "clean solution," he's not sure there's broad support for one among Gunn teachers.

Kristy Blackburn, who teaches English and journalism at Gunn, acknowledged that phones have become a major distraction over the last decade but doesn't support a blanket ban. Her journalism students, for example, rely on their smartphones as a reporting tool — to take photos, record interviews and cover breaking news or events.

There's also a difference in opinion among teachers at Paly.

Eric Bloom reminds his students to put their phones away at the start of class. He attached an old iPhone to his classroom's door jamb as a humorous reminder to students to do so. He's not interested in policing students by taking away their phones. If there are a few free minutes at the end of a period, he encourages students to talk to each other instead of automatically reaching for their phones.

He questioned how well a campus-wide ban would be received by schools with strong cultures of autonomy.

"At Paly and Palo Alto in general those kinds of broad, sweeping command kinds of things just don't seem to work very well," Bloom said.

Paly history and social science teacher Chris Farina has for years been requiring students to put their phones away during class in backpacks or pockets. He pointed to research showing there's a cognitive cost to simply having a phone out, even if it's not turned on or in use.

But he's not completely for a ban. There's some value, he said, in leaving it to teachers' discretion to decide how to handle phones in their classrooms, particularly if they use it as an educational tool.

"Also, I think there's value in setting it as an expectation in your classroom and asking the students to develop the habits around responsibility and keeping it away, cultivating that behavior rather than just imposing it on them at this age level," Farina said. He talks with students about the research on cellphones' effects and more broadly, the role of technology in the classroom, such as taking long-hand notes versus on a laptop.

School board member Melissa Baten Caswell also argued that teaching students responsible use is preferable than trying to create a "hermetically sealed environment." She's heard from parents who want to ban phones at school and others who agree that teenagers need to learn to self-monitor.

"When you have a challenge with kids' behavior I think we immediately jump to, 'Let's just take away the thing that's creating that behavior,'" she said. "It's definitely harder to spend time on teaching kids to make good decisions, and maybe we haven't been spending enough time on that."

Working through the complications

One of Farina's AP psychology students, senior Ben Gordon, does feel more engaged when his phone is away. He thinks his peers also pay more attention in that class. He grapples with the compulsive pull of his phone — constantly wondering if there's a text or social media comment that's come in that he "needs" to check.

There's "that feeling when I finally get access to my phone: 'What'd I miss? What'd I miss?' It's almost like an unconscious, jittery fear," he said. "'What if it's important?' And even though it rarely is, there's always that constant notion of 'I feel like I'm missing something.'"

Senior Claire Cheng has had teachers using their own phone pockets since her freshman year. This year, two out of her seven classes use them and a third teacher asks students to put their phones away in their backpacks when they enter his classroom. These measures are effective from her perspective — she feels more engaged in those classes — but a complete ban would be "inflexible." What if a student needs to leave early, or has a mid-day prep period during which they need their phone to get work done? Students also use their phones to send each other reminders about club meetings and assignments throughout the day, she said.

"It definitely is harmful when you aren't able to communicate with people virtually during the day," Cheng said.

Both Gordon and Cheng said they would expect students to oppose a ban if proposed in Palo Alto.

At San Mateo High School, phasing in the ban with ample opportunity for public feedback helped reduce pushback, Assistant Principal Adam Gelb said in an interview with the Weekly. The school started by piloting a few phone-free classrooms last spring, and some students voluntarily gave up their phones for the day. The school held more than 10 public meetings to gather input from students, staff and parents. Most parents there support the ban, he said, but the top concern is how to reach students in the case of an emergency, such as a school shooting. Both schools encourage parents to call the front office if they need to get in touch with students in an emergency.

Both San Mateo and San Lorenzo high schools use Yondr pouches — small gray, cloth bags in which students lock their phones for the day. They keep the pouches on them but cannot access them until they're unlocked at the end of the day. The founder of the San Francisco company created the pouches to encourage more in-person interaction at concerts, but they're now being used at schools, courtrooms, medical facilities and other spaces. According to Yondr, San Lorenzo was the first school in California to use the pouches all day rather than in some classrooms.

The pouches cost about $12 each. For a high school the size of Paly or Gunn, that would cost about $24,000.

San Mateo High School created a procedure for when students need to access their phones. The school issues to all students bright yellow "consideration cards" that students can put on their desk in order to go to the front office to check in with an adult who either unlocks their pouch or lets them use a landline phone.

Students have found workarounds to the pouches but for the most part comply, Gelb said.

"I get there are benefits to having phone during the school day, but teachers saw it was a constant battle for attention. An engaging teacher who has put a lot of effort into a lesson might go unnoticed, and students might perform poorly on an assessment because of their distraction and addiction to the screen," he said.

For some teachers, cellphones are just the tip of the technological-distraction iceberg. To ban them would raise the question of what to do with the other kinds of electronic devices in classrooms across Paly and Gunn. Both schools provide all students with a district-issued Chromebook, for example, many of which are used during classes and have the same potential for distraction as a phone. Teachers said they're also seeing students listening to music during class using wireless earbuds.

Paley pointed to Schoology, the district's online school-management system, as another source of distraction and anxiety. Students — and parents — have immediate access to grades, homework assignments and other class content on website. If a student logs onto Schoology during class, they're "one click away from having a complete distraction," he said.

San Mateo High School also has Chromebooks in almost every classroom. Gelb said teachers monitor students' screens and ask them to close anything that's non-academic or class-related.

Differing opinions on the board

Todd Collins, vice president of the Board of Education, reached out to Gunn Principal Laurence and top district administrators last February about trying out Yondr after reading news stories about San Lorenzo High School. He said there wasn't much interest at the time.

"I'm increasingly concerned that there are public health risk type issues associated with universal cellphone usage at all times," Collins told the Weekly. "It just changes so fundamentally the way people interact with each other. Getting people to interact with each other is a huge part of what education is."

Collins thinks a ban could be tried on a limited basis in a single classroom, department or school even if there are logistical challenges or potential for student and parent pushback. The district can tap two local high schools that have actual experience in the process to navigate implementation issues; staff at both schools have offered to come and talk to teachers and administrators here.

"We're not doing our jobs right if we ignore an idea like this that other people are adopting," he said.

One of his board colleagues, however, thinks locking away students' phones would divert the schools' attention from more impactful changes, such as implementing the district's homework policy and having later school start times.

"Students who are stressed and deprived of sleep but without cellphones are still going to be stressed and deprived of sleep," board member Ken Dauber said. "I would rather focus on those I think more fundamental problems than focus on this specific issue."

A group of Palo Alto Unified parents who have become increasingly concerned about cellphone use are starting to organize around the issue. Dave Shen, whose children attend district elementary schools, is part of that informal effort and said they will likely lobby the superintendent, district administrators and school board members — as well as students — to propose a ban. Shen thinks the district should not simply institute a ban in isolation but make sure to also create classes or otherwise educate students about responsible technology use and technology's effects on the brain and body.

His own concerns run the gamut, from the detrimental social-emotional impact of phones and social media to health risks like excessive blue light exposure to eyes. Shen, the co-vice president of the Palo Alto Council of PTAs' health and wellness committee, pointed to the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study, the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States, funded by the National Institutes of Heath (NIH), which found that children who spent more than seven hours a day on screens showed premature thinning of the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for executive functioning.

Above all, the cost of cellphones in an educational setting is obvious, Shen said.

"If we're stuck in a screen, we're not focusing on the world," he said.

Staff Writer Elena Kadvany can be emailed at


18 people like this
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 27, 2019 at 7:12 am

Great piece, Elena. Yes, that’s my comment. i hope this gets you a job at a big paper.

17 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2019 at 7:32 am

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Neither PAUSD principal not the Superintendent even bothered to respond to requests for a comment. We're they checking with the lawyers to have the lawyers tell them what to say?

In anothern paper's article on San Mateo using the Yondr pouches, Don Austin said PAUSD has no interest in a similar program.

Dauber's a broken record, it's all about workload. Guess he can't see the link between phone use and stress and lack of sleep.

4 people like this
Posted by Shawn
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 27, 2019 at 8:27 am

I agree with the previous comment about the article. Well done. You are in a class of your own.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2019 at 8:29 am

There are many different ways of looking at this. I think correct etiquette for phone usage is not a constant across society and this is the big problem. Of course a student in a classroom should not be texting or using a phone inappropriately but instead of taking away a phone from them they should be accepted and used within sensible guidelines.

Many people have their phones as such a part of them that not having the comfort of having it on their person will give them separation anxiety, think taking away a blankie or stuffed toy from a toddler. The anxiety felt could in fact make it harder for a student to concentrate.

Many people, parents included, feel that in the case of an emergency the ability to text a message to loved ones is very important. In say a big earthquake, the fact that those phones in pouches are going to be the first thing everyone tries to get before doing anything else. The rush to get phones and the confusion of getting the right phone could be a dangerous activity.

Additionally, students will be one step ahead. They will easily carry a spare phone to put in the pouch and the real phone will still be in a pocket. Are teachers going to be able to make sure that these are anything other than a dummy carried specifically for keeping the teacher's rules.

I would much prefer a rule that states that all phones are silenced and kept out of sight. Anyone discovered using a phone during class should suffer some type of disciplinary action.

5 people like this
Posted by Amanda Kelso
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 27, 2019 at 9:52 am

Excellent in-depth work by Elena Kadvany and I'm very glad to see this kind of great local news coverage supported.

18 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2019 at 10:09 am

I like to avoid discussing my personal info on here, but, I do know a lot about how phones are used and the pressures that students are under to use them for legitimate purposes all day, as well as the dumb stuff (snapchat ad nauseum). Students are expected to schedule themselves with a different schedule every day. The schedule changes so often that half the students don't know what the schedule is on any given day. Adults schedules often change every day, too. I use my cell phone to keep it under control-- I'm not surprised they do also. Students typically have doctors appts during the day. Got to coordinate with mom/dad getting picked up to go to the clinic? Cell phone. Student sports or other activities after school? Got to coordinate using cell phones.

Want to fix this? Go back to a fixed daily schedule with two options: regular, and, early-out. Get more buses and bus to all school-sponsored after-school events including all sports. Bus more students to school instead of the huge number of parent pick-up/drop-off traffic jam we have today. Work with PAMF to encourage more doctor visits in the late afternoons instead of during school hours.

We could do these things. Or, we could stop playing "ain't it awful" and just let them use their cell phones like adults do.

12 people like this
Posted by Cover up culture
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 27, 2019 at 11:03 am

@Anon - good points, but buses to school activities will never again happen as the teachers' union continues to suck out any extraneous money from the school system that they can while forcing parents to pick up the slack and even ask them to donate for class supplies and things they've already paid for anyway via taxes.

17 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 27, 2019 at 11:31 am

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

@ Resident......"Many people have their phones as such a part of them that not having the comfort of having it on their person will give them separation anxiety, think taking away a blankie or stuffed toy from a toddler. The anxiety felt could in fact make it harder for a student to concentrate."

You made some very valid points, but lost me on this one. Pretty soon they'll come up with the category of "emotional support phone" for the snowflakes and legislation will need to be passed for the children to make it through the day untraumatized. Sheesh.

10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2019 at 11:36 am

Posted by What Will They Do Next, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> "emotional support phone"

Maybe you can copyright that.

Anyway, thank you. Your post made me feel happier.

14 people like this
Posted by a Gunn parent
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2019 at 12:16 pm

We have struggled with screen use at home and were exasperated when our older child was given a Chromebook at freshman orientation. A couple years later, here are some thoughts:

Kudos to the teachers who have clear and firm policies. My kids are most annoyed with teachers who have flimsy policies or allow distracting screen use in classes such as watching videos, listening to music, gaming, etc. That harms everyone's learning and should never be tolerated.

Hopefully by now adults agree that phones ARE distracting AND that teens cannot multitask. At the same time, people unfamiliar with local high schools should know that high schoolers are in an environment where they heavily rely on their phones to know which class they need to be in, access Schoology, club meeting info, sports carpool info, jobs, etc. It is a big sprawling campus and they all have a LOT on their plates.

School leadership is probably unwilling to take a stand because they would be skewered by people on all sides. Families have different policies. Kids have different levels of self control.

What about a campaign to get students to put their phones down during passing, lunch, brunch, etc. High school can be an awkward, lonely time for some and this can be made worse (or better for some) when everyone has eyes on a screen. When people (not just students) hide in their phones they miss out on making personal connections and getting to know others outside their circle. The school could set aside certain days and class leadership could promote screen-free lunch or whatever. This really goes for everywhere - including coffee shops full of adults. Just a thought.

26 people like this
Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 27, 2019 at 12:23 pm

The idea that kids "need" phones - for emotional support, to navigate the campus, to figure out what class to be in - is ridiculous. Everyone did fine with out them as recently as 10-15 years ago, as do many kids today (esp. lower income students). If they are really "needed" the school should supply them - otherwise, they are not needed.

By not having a school-wide policy, the school puts the burden on individual teachers to manage and police. This is unreasonable, especially for less experienced or control-oriented teachers, who probably need the support the most.

I haven't seen any argument that "having phones improves students' education" - isn't that the whole point of schools? If they are detrimental, they should look at school-wide controls, as others have. As so often happens, while Palo Alto rationalizes, others take action.

10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2019 at 12:28 pm

Posted by Parent of 2, a resident of Community Center

>> The idea that kids "need" phones - fto figure out what class to be in - is ridiculous. Everyone did fine with out them as recently as 10-15 years ago,

I guess you aren't familiar with the new "block" schedules, along with their multiple alternate schedules that depend on what kind of a short day it is.

8 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of another community
on Sep 27, 2019 at 12:46 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

Some years ago in Japan, when obnoxious cell-phone use in restaurants became a phenomenon, commercial short-range cell-phone JAMMER products appeared as a countermeasure. Got a lot of publicity at the time, mostly ignored by US pop culture (characteristically, Japan's experience has been completely overlooked in the related Wikipedia article, where it would be centrally relevant: Web Link ).

In principle, since smart phones use the same mobile-radio channels, that might seem one overarching (and already-available) solution for classrooms, if kids fail to cooperate, or cheat, on policies (especially in exams). But unlike in some countries, it is illegal per US radio laws (deliberate service interference has been illegal since the 1930s).

19 people like this
Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 27, 2019 at 12:47 pm

@Anon, yes I'm familiar (parent of 2 high schoolers). Kids do not need hand-held computers to know what class they have. If they need to look it up, they can do it before school and jot it down - one of the good things about block scheduling is that you don't have as many classes in a day.

Since other schools are already doing this, it seems easy enough to address these logistical questions. My wonder is why nobody from the schools has bothered.

22 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Cellphones should not be available during class instruction time.
I had block scheduling years ago at Gunn and a one page printout provided to students at start of school year sufficed for everyone to know a particular day’s schedule.
If as stated above by a poster, some students would bring a “dummy” phone to place in a school storage device while keeping a second “real” phone to continue use during class - wow, I have no respect for you. Self control, self management, ability to do the correct thing - these are part of showing one’s character.
Cellphones are not necessary and impede everyone’s classroom experience.

26 people like this
Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 27, 2019 at 1:48 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

First, thanks for a great article.
Personally, I would love it if every teacher had a cell phone caddy in their class like Josh Paley. It does take some training of the students to do this every day and an extra amount of rigor for the teacher to monitor phone usage.

BUT, I must say that what I as a parent, and likely many of you out there need to do is:
1) do not text or call our children during the school hours
2) put our own cell phones away especially during family times like meals
3) put our own cell phones away when working at home and the children are home unless on a phone call.

We need to lead by example and teach our children good habits for cell phone usage. We are using a cell charging box at our front door. We try to leave it there when we get home. It is a very hard habit to break and even harder for young kids given, as adults, we are challenged.

I hope we can all try and also do whatever we can to continue to encourage each other to limit our cell phone usage. We can as a community of adults work together to show good examples to kids.

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2019 at 1:48 pm

The idea that cell phones are emotional support is of course amusing, but at the same time the loss of such would cause great anxiety.

I myself, if I forget to take my phone with me, or lose it, feel almost naked. The phone itself is more than just a communication tool but it is a lifeline in an emergency and contains all the information I could possibly need that day. Phones nowadays have schedules and calendars, reminders, shopping lists, time and alarm reminders, homework and tests info, contact info, some are used instead of keys for cars and houses, entry into gyms, libraries, buildings, and the list goes on. Taking away a phone, even for a short period of time, can be a serious feeling to overcome.

25 people like this
Posted by I am all for a ban
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2019 at 6:35 pm

I am all for a ban is a registered user.

No one needs a phone during school. My kid doesn't have a smartphone and navigates the high school schedule just fine. If she is sick, or I need to reach her, we use the office's phone.

Phones reduce opportunities for kids to engage with each other, in class and in between classes. Those skills are CRITICAL in this world that they are going to live in, and they are not developing them. Worse, they are not making the friendships and building their communities that will sustain them in high school and last throughout their lives if they are lucky.

It is not enough to remove phones in class, though that is a no-brainer. We need to remove them throughout the school day. I would love to join this effort to ban phones during the school day.

11 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 27, 2019 at 7:38 pm

Smartphones are often used for cheating during exams. Some kids are pretty good ar hiding their phones while texting to get the answer to question # __. Lots of texting goes on during movies in the classroom.

Do we even want to address the phone pics that get posted on social media, some of which is bullying or fat shaming in locker rooms?

If there is an emergency on campus, the last thing that will be helpful is having kids divng for their phones instead of following safety instructions or wasting time answering calls from panicky parents, usually 2 parents per kid.

I think if a teacher says no phone use in class, that offenders should have their phones confiscated until the end of the week.

11 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 28, 2019 at 6:28 pm

Interesting, but why isn't PA Weekly investigating why, for a second time in less than a decade, PAUSD has been caught disproportionately designating minorities as special education? Do they really have a disability? Is PAUSD trying to designate them as special ed so their scores won't knock down PAUSD's academic rating? What is going on here? Cellphones, yeah, but what about spending time investigating that?

8 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 28, 2019 at 10:56 pm

Or why not investigate how the district, while holding families and their students hostage, extracts a quid pro quo from them, getting them to release all potential claims against pausd and to keep silent, in exchange for providing their students the education pausd is supposed to provide anyway. NDA anyone?

7 people like this
Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 1, 2019 at 1:18 pm

ALB is a registered user.

I taught ESL for over fifteen years and my students were wealthy people from Africa, China, France, Colombia, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Mexico and several other countries. The average age was sixteen through twenty. I did have some professionals in their thirties and forties as well. The younger students had difficulty with the rule to have cell phones turned off and put away. Most students followed the rule but once in awhile I had to take the cellphone away from the young person and keep it on my desk until class ended. Cell phones are huge distractions and are unfair to the other students who want to learn. The prefrontal cortex is not developed until the age of twenty five so teenagers who most think are immortal anyway do not have great executive function. They need to comply with the rule: cellphones need to be turned off and probably given to the teacher at the beginning of class. Some appropriate solution needs to be implemented. Because he is our local icon just look at what Steve Jobs permitted with his kids regarding screen time.

6 people like this
Posted by Mom of Paly student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 2, 2019 at 5:39 pm

ALB, what does this mean? No facts here in your posting, you cannot assume we know: "Because he is our local icon just look at what Steve Jobs permitted with his kids regarding screen time."

Everyone is hopelessly addicted to their cell phones and computers these days, adults included. Schools should create and enforce a no-cell phone rule in classes. Between classes, brunch and lunch, let them get their fixes, but during class, it's too distracting to their learning. Although, admittedly, I have texted urgent things to my son during class and he fortunately answered.

7 people like this
Posted by It's not complicated
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 2, 2019 at 11:47 pm

Any school with a spine will ban cell phones. The idea that we need to "teach kids to use them responsibly" is bananas - should we do the same thing with guns, booze, drugs, and vaping? These devices/apps are, for some students, addicting and deleterious - why would a quality educational institution allow them during school hours? Schools exist to promote learning and personal well-being; these devices don't contribute and for some actively detract; so don't allow them. It's not complicated.

4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Posted by Mom of Paly student, a resident of Palo Alto High School

>> Although, admittedly, I have texted urgent things to my son during class and he fortunately answered.


1 person likes this
Posted by Solution looking for a problem?
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2019 at 10:26 am

From the teacher interviews it appears that teachers are already managing cell phones in their classrooms. If teachers were complaining about the existing cell phone policies which seem to provide a solution that would be different but this sounds like it is coming from parents who aren't in the classrooms.
I also agree with Trustee Dauber that the bigger issues are homework and starting times. Numerous studies show that overworked and tired brains do not learn. The homework policy was adopted in 2012 and has yet to be implemented across the district. We've made progress on start times but any parent of a teen knows that we can do better on that account.
Here is an excerpt of the homework policy with regards to high school students.
"While many high school classes serve students across several grade levels, students in their freshman year may reasonably expect average home work loads closer to seven hours a week. Similarly, seniors can expect loads closer to ten hours per week.
Students who choose to enroll in Advanced Placement, Honors or accelerated courses should expect loads higher than those outlined above and should refer to class catalogs for homework expectations.
Students who chose to enroll in Advanced Placements, Honors, or accelerated courses should expect higher homework loads, but not to exceed an average of 15 hours per week."

If your child is experiencing higher levels teachers are required to modify their assignments per paragraph 5 of the teacher guidelines:
"Differentiate assignments when it is determined that, despite appropriate effort and learning habits, a student is spending more than the expected time on homework."
Go to the source document to read about the qualitative requirements for homework. See Web Link
I love the policy but clearly more work is needed to divide the homework pie among classes in high school. Are we collecting student data? Does each class get an equal amount of homework pie? Is this something the high school staff can take a stab at?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2019 at 1:36 pm

I think we have gone beyond the stage of banning phones. Apart from the fact that to some they might be distractions and possibly lead to cheating, there is the real fact that many teachers are using them as teaching tools. From taking pictures of various things, telling the students to video the explanation part of a lesson so that they can watch it again to help understand the procedure, to putting parts of the lessons online, the teachers are using technology in the classroom.

It is important I think to teach more about phone use etiquette. Parents who text a student should not expect an immediate response but expect to receive a reply in passing period. Students do use their phones for calendars, schedules, reminder alarms, homework and test planning, and all the other tools that are common place. They are buying their lunch, buying homework supplies, using phones as payment, and probably ahead of most of us with apps to do all sorts of things that their generation use and we have never heard of.

Most teachers that I have heard of are adapting to phones in the classroom. They have rules and these rules seem to be working. Are any of them complaining there is a problem?

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 4, 2019 at 3:15 pm

1 - not all students have phones, so urging kids to use them in the classroom is unfair unless they are supplied to all students like textbooks

2 - taking pictures or videoing instead of taking written notes is shown to develop less comprehension and retention. This is now you dumb down a school, tell kids to just take pictures of things.

3 - an equally big problem is OUTSIDE of class, when kids should be interacting with each other and adults on campus. Instead, many have their noses in their phones. We talk about soft-skills, problem solving, group dynamics, emotional intelligence - how do you develop these with a smart phone? Is there an app for that??

The rate of anxiety and depression among teenagers has risen dramatically (see Web Link, or just google it), tied to rise of social media. This is as much a public health problem as vaping, cigarettes, or other things we outright ban in schools as a matter of common sense.

Again, while others act, Palo Alto rationalizes.

4 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 4, 2019 at 9:32 pm

Being hunched over your phone, walking along w/o eye contact with others - what a way to live. Most apps, games are crap anyway. Gossip is damaging. Communication, Photos ok up to a point....then very bad.
Better to engage with others during your youth. Paying attention to your teacher in class will pay off, too!

2 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 5, 2019 at 3:43 am

This is the generation that had parents on phones obsessively while their children grew up especially in this area where every parent has the newest phone and always has it in their hands, even at playgrounds, concerts, beaches.... what do they expect kids to do. The teachers often leave the kids for work time and they are jus staring at screens instead of any collaberation.

why not just send them to a virtual school with all online classes?

Teachers send online work home that is meaningless or just a test that is computer graded and then the kids are on the computer again anyway. Using the computer for low level worksheets and then saying it is tech has gotten old and stupid and of course they will try to entertain themselves to escape the boredom of Kahn academy videos and such sent home or that they have to watch because the teacher told them they have to teach themselves. Teachers could never sit at computers alone in class when they could be checking for understanding in person with a conversation or a look at actual work. Oh wait, that would require leadership. Most teachers at Paly are wonderful and do this, but some are very naive about what kids a re doing on phones and computers during class. In college, they should not be on phones and not being present is a bad habit that will follow them as adults and parents.

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