Montgomery County superintendent expects phone policy changes

On the first day of the 2019-2020 school year, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith expects the system’s policy regarding students’ use of phones will likely change.

The county’s policy dictates phones be kept off and out of sight during school hours, unless the teacher instructs the student to use it for an educational purpose.

“We are looking at all the research coming out, and of course the world of cellphones has been an ever-evolving world for public education in the last 10 years,” said Smith. “We will probably make some decisions this year around how we go forward.”

Standing outside Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, as cheerleaders welcomed students to their first day of school in Maryland’s largest school system, Smith said the county will continue to listen to parents, as was done when the county made it possible for elementary school students to bring phones to school with parental approval.

“Many parents feel like it’s a security issue for a child to have the phone,” said Smith. “But, also, how do we make sure that they’re not overused and don’t become a distraction — not only in school, but in life, everyday, all the time.”

Nearby Fairfax County Public Schools has instituted new guidelines, which are more restrictive for elementary school students than high school students. In all cases, phones must be powered off and stowed during instructional periods.

Lynne Harris, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, told WTOP there “is definitely growing support” for further restricting or banning students from having phones with them during school hours.

“What we have to do is find the appropriate, effective middle ground, where there is benefit to students and their learning, but not a distraction to the school and the classroom,” Smith said.

With the explosion of social media, games, messaging and photography apps, Smith said: “There are a lot of people who’ve expressed that they don’t think anyone should have a cellphone” during school hours.

“It is a challenge for teachers, principals, and school staff, in general, to keep students engaged when the students have the whole world in their hand.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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