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Students 'will not be very happy' with school cellphone restrictions: Burnaby student leader

The Burnaby school district has until July 1 to finalize additions to its code of conduct to restrict the use of cellphones and other personal digital devices at local schools.

"A lot of students will not be very happy."

That was Burnaby North Secondary student Angela Cheng's feedback on a proposed change to the Burnaby school district's code of conduct that will restrict the use of cellphones and other personal digital devices at local schools.

Cheng, co-chair of the district student advisory council, is the student representative on the Burnaby school district's committee of the whole.

On Monday, the committee discussed a draft amendment to the district's code of conduct that would bring it in line with a new provincial order around electronic devices at schools coming into effect on July 1.

Provincial order

The province announced in January it was taking steps to keep children and youth safe from online threats, including restricting cellphone use in schools.

Proposed additions to the Burnaby school district's code of conduct state "all members of the school community" would be expected to comply with "appropriate use" of cellphones and other personal digital devices.

Appropriate use would include not using the devices during instructional time unless the teacher gives permission for "educational, learning accessibility, and/or medical purposes."

That restriction would apply even to the end of classes when students are done their work, according to deputy superintendent Roberto Bombelli.

During the school day, personal digital devices would have to be "safely stored, on silent mode, and out of sight, except when allowed by the school or classroom teacher," according to the proposed change.

Bombelli said the changes wouldn't be "a large shift" for local schools that already have policies in place for restricting cellphone use.

The "biggest shift" will come at schools that don't currently have established rules, according to Bombelli.

"This happens, from what we’ve seen in canvassing our schools, more in secondary than in elementary," he said.

Will cellphone restrictions apply to teachers?

The draft changes drew questions and comments from committee members, including Cheng.

She said restricting cellphone use was a "really good idea" because she and fellow students are "always checking their phones."

"It's really hard to concentrate nowadays," she said. "It's important to sort of detach from these devices that we've growth so used to using."

But students won't be happy about the restrictions, Cheng said, and will look for loopholes, like accessing social media in class on their laptops.

Trustee Kristin Schnider asked if the restriction would apply to flex time at high schools and to wearable tech, like Apple Watches.

Trustee Jen Mezei wanted to know if the restrictions would apply to listening to music on cellphones.

Bombelli said yes to all three, but noted the proposed wording would give schools and classroom teachers the authority to allow certain uses.

Although the district's code of conduct has historically applied to "all members of the school community," Bombelli didn't have a firm answer on whether the new cellphone restrictions would apply to teachers and other school staff.

"That's something we'd have to think about," he said.

(After the meeting, Bombelli clarified to the NOW the restrictions will not apply to teachers, and whatever wording is added to the code of conduct will have to make that clear.)

As for how the restrictions will be enforced, Bombelli told the committee it will be like any other part of the code.

"It's part of the culture of the school; it's part of expectations in a classroom, teachers working with kids. And there are ways of escalating when a child is refusing," Bombelli said.  

'Help on the school front'

Burnaby district parent advisory council (DPAC) chair Harinder Parmar said a majority of parents she has heard from are concerned about their children's screen time and cellphone use and would support "help on the school front."

Bombelli said the proposed changes would also support schools and teachers who are already trying to set limits on cellphone use at schools.

"Now they can say, 'Actually, it's not just me; this is the code of conduct for our entire district,'" he said.

The changes to the code of conduct have to be finalized by July 1, but superintendent Karim Hachlaf told the committee the school district plans to provide parents with information before the end of the school year about cellphone restrictions coming into effect in September.

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