MI lawmakers consider school phone ban; at Forest Hills, ban ‘liberation’

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While state legislators are considering a bill that would ban the use of cell phones in schools across Michigan, one local school district has been doing so for years.

As of fall 2019, phones are no longer allowed in Forest Hills Public Schools. Principals first tried it in a few buildings before making it the district-wide norm.

Superintendent Dan Behm said parents, teachers and the administration have not looked back since.

“The decision was made to create the school as a place of learning,” said Behm. “A place free from distractions of any kind.”

It was clear that phones were a distraction, Behm said.

“Every time you hear it vibrate, ping, or chirp, whatever it is doing, your brain is like, ‘What is that?'” Behm said. “Instead of focusing on what my math teacher said, I’m like, ‘When can I next check my phone?’ When we eliminated this distraction, it really helped students focus, and our principles and teachers report that it creates a better school environment.”

What surprised the superintendent was that the students welcomed the ban. He said students reported feeling more focused and less stressed.

“Students have told us it was liberating for them,” Behm said. “Because they have six, seven hours when they don’t have to look at their phones. And they know their friends aren’t posting at the same time. This allows them to focus on learning.”

Behm said one student described the ban as “general disarmament.”

“There’s no fear that a colleague or friend will post something that he/she will miss,” Behm said.

Now there are efforts to ban cell phones in schools across Michigan.

Under State House Bill 6171, presented by Rep. Gary Eisen, R-St. Parish of Clair, public

Schools would have to stop students from using phones in the classroom, in the hallways and even on the bus. HB 6171 is currently stuck in the Board of Education.

Although Behm said the change was positive for Forest Hills, he doesn’t support a statewide mandate.

“I’m someone who believes strongly in local control,” he said. “It’s how individual school districts and parents and parents come together on a school board and figure out what’s best for their school. That makes sense.”

When a Forest Hills student uses their phone, they don’t get it back by the end of the day.

If it happens again, the parents must intervene. But Behm said that was very rare.

“It wasn’t a big problem for us,” he said. It’s something that has created a new norm, a new environment in the classroom environment and the students understand it. And like I said, I think a lot of them appreciate the break from not having to keep checking their phones.”

If there is an emergency and students need to contact their parents, there are landline phones in the classrooms. Also, students still carry their own phones – they just need to be put away unless there’s an emergency.

The parents also supported the decision, said Behm.

“I think parents understand that there is a time and a place for these tools,” he said. “And what we’re trying to do is for students to understand how to use it as a tool.”

The superintendent also said that removing phones had improved students’ communication skills and “made everyone more present”.

“What we have is students who are spending more time interacting with themselves than their peers and also interacting face-to-face with the adults at school in an analogous setting,” he said.

Long story short, staying unplugged is here for the long haul in Forest Hills.

“Kids, teachers and parents haven’t looked back since then,” Behm said. “Sometimes there are decisions that are made at the district level, there are people who like it and people who don’t like it at all. This was one that more and more people really liked over time.”

https://www.woodtv.com/news/kent-county/mi-lawmakers-consider-school-phone-ban-at-forest-hills-ban-universal-disarmament/ MI lawmakers consider school phone ban; at Forest Hills, ban 'liberation'

Dais Johnston

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