School cellphone rules constantly evolving

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Central Otago secondary schools are divided on how to treat cellphone use in schools but have one thing in common, evolution.

Principals were in accord when they said policies were constantly evolving to meet the demands and challenges of a digital world.

Dunstan High School, in Alexandra, had relaxed rules compared with others.
‘‘Our guidelines are we do not allow cellphone use in class unless permission is given by a teacher for situations where they can be useful for learning,’’ principal Reece Goldsmith said.

Pupils at the year 9-13 school were allowed to access them during breaks.
‘‘Generally this works quite well although from time to time phones need to be handed in to the office and parents contacted when phones are being misused.’’

The school’s policy was not set in stone.
‘‘We have considered banning them, but currently feel educating around appropriate usage is our preferred approach; this is not to say that we won’t review this approach if needed,’’ Mr Goldsmith said.

Cromwell College principal Mason Stretch said the school first addressed the issue in 2018.
That policy has since evolved.
Initially, year 7-9 pupils were not allowed to use their phones at school.
Last year, the threshold was lifted to include year 10 pupils.

While it was accepted some pupils needed to carry phones, use of them at school could result in a phone being taken from a pupil until the end of the school day, he said.
The policy was more lax for pupils in years 11-13.

‘‘Years 11 to 13 can bring cellphones and use them at lunchtimes and intervals and may be able to use them in class at the teacher’s discretion,’’ Mr Stretch said.
‘‘We found there was a battle during class times with pupils more engaged with their phones and the constant notifications.’’

At Maniototo Area School in Ranfurly, principal Joe Ferdinands said the policy at the year 1-13 school had been in its present form for three years.
‘‘It has been longer than that but we kept tweaking it.’’
Pupils were required to hand in their phones at the start of the day.
They could retrieve them during their lunch break before handing them back in until 3pm.

However, the occasional pupil did flout the rules, Mr Ferdinands said.
‘‘They sneak in a second phone but they get caught out or ratted on.’’
Roxburgh Area School’s policy was ‘‘under review’’, principal Gary Pasco said.
He would not disclose what changes were being made to the previous policy, which had been open access for pupils from year 7 and up, until parents had been notified.
It was pupils themselves who prompted the changes.
‘‘It was feedback from students that got us thinking about the need for a consistent approach around the use of cellphones in school,’’ Mr Pasco said.

Internet watchdog Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said differences in approach were to be expected.
‘‘It is typical of New Zealand in that schools are self­governed and individual schools set their own rules and guidelines regarding cellphone use.’’

The Netsafe Schools Programme was a 21-point online safety guide that did not differentiate between devices with access to the internet, Mr Cocker said.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said school boards of trustees were free to make school rules on a wide range of matters including cellphones.

‘‘We expect schools to communicate very clearly with parents what their school policies are and to consult with their school communities when they update or change them. Most students understand the need for rules, the rulemaking process and the important role they themselves play in promoting positive school environments.’’