This month Golden Valley High School 11th grade students are engaged in a public policy project based on the Project Citizen curriculum. This process involves an examination of local issues, identification of a problem with either a faulty existing policy or no policy, research of alternative solutions, development of a new policy, and creation of an action plan to work with government to achieve change.

GVHS teachers recently met to discuss the topics chosen by our students. The “usual suspects” of local topics were represented, including homelessness, air and water issues, high teen pregnancy and STD rates, and child welfare issues. But we were dismayed to see that no class had chosen to explore an issue that we see as very relevant: cell phones in the classroom. So, using the format of Project Citizen, I will present this public policy issue.

Problem: The current policy is not sufficient. Teachers are asked to confiscate the phone, call security, wait for them to arrive, and then hand over the phone. This stops the class at least twice for each cell phone incident. Imagine a class where three out of 35 students need to have their phones confiscated in a 55 minute period.

And what if the student refuses? Teachers are liable for any phone they have “mishandled.”

According to a survey, cell phone distractions are one of the most significant classroom issues today. Students use phones to cheat on exams, ignore lessons, and generally disengage from learning. Some students receive text messages and calls from parents during class!

Alternatives: One option would be to ban all phones. A second alternative would be to ask parents to monitor student usage and help with encouraging students to not use their phone during class. A third alternative is to provide a cell phone “parking lot” for each classroom. This could be achieved by using a hanging plastic calculator holder labeled with numbers and placed in a secure location.

Proposed policy: The best option is a combination of encouraging parent help and providing a “parking lot” for phones. This policy would need to be supported by parents who would sign off on the liability issues.

Action plan: Convince the school board and the site principals to implement the policy. Identify funds to purchase the parking lot materials and train teachers in the policy.

This probably seems a little extreme. There are several fun ways to use cell phones in the classroom. You may be thinking, why don’t teachers just ask students to put away their phones? Don’t students listen? Yes, we do ask, and yes, many students do.

However I think people would be shocked at how significant the attachment to phones is for our students. The common sense solution is for parents to check student usage.

If they are texting during class call them out on it. But first, put down your own phone. We could really use the help.

Terri Richmond teaches history at Golden Valley High School.