Cell phone use at school: Which policy should you use?


Before we even begin, let’s all take a deep breath. Cell phone use is a hot-button topic, and most educators have a strong opinion about what students should and should not do with their cell phones while on school grounds. Believe me when I say I don’t want to start any fights. Besides, violence isn’t the answer, right? So while we all sing “kumbayah” together, let’s take a look at the three main approaches to student cell phone use, and why schools use, or refuse to use, them.

1) Zero tolerance

Spend one day at Magnus Health HQ and you’ll hear the phrase “zero tolerance” thrown around like this week’s newest political buzzword. We love zero tolerance policies because they keep students safe. However, using zero tolerance for health forms is different from using zero tolerance for cell phone use. Regardless, some schools decide to ban all personal technology from school grounds. 


Schools choose it because: It’s the cut-and-dry solution, and it makes lines clear. No gray area, no questions. If a student is seen with a cell phone, there are repercussions – from phone confiscation to in-school suspension. It helps schools and districts (like the entire NYC Public School district) by eliminating distractions and it keeps cyberbullying, and liability risks, at bay. Students focus on their schoolwork, and return to their world of texting, tweeting, and snapchatting at home.

Potential issues:

  • Noncompliance. As of 2013, 78% of teens own cell phones, which means 78% of teens probably aren’t too happy or willing to leave those phones at home.
  • Safety. In case of an emergency, phones allow students to keep communication lines open, and to contact their parents.
  • Technology as a villain. There’s no question that technology is a part of everyday life. So does labeling cell phones as contraband teach kids to identify technology as an evil?

2) Limited Use

A happy medium for many, limited use comprises a varied spectrum. Some schools limit cell phones to lockers and book bags, while others opt to approve lunchtime and hallway use. This allows students a few opportunities to send a quick text (“hey bro, u do tht math hw?”), listen to their favorite song, or even text the school nurse.

Schools choose it because: Administrators don’t always have the time or resources to enforce zero tolerance, especially with the increasing number of students who own cell phones. And, it teaches students acceptable and responsible use of these devices – who says you can’t kill two birds with one stone?

Potential issues:

  • Cyberbullying. Apps like YikYak can turn 200 characters into a student’s worst nightmare. Words hurt, and they spread even faster with technology.
  • Control. When schools allow students to bring their cell phones to school, it can get difficult for teachers to control cell phones during class – students may hide them in their pockets, under their desks, etc.
  • Liability. From phone theft to online crimes, tricky situations can (and will) arise. A school’s best bet is to compose a technology agreement that all students must sign.

3) Educational Use

Technology can be good (heck, even wonderful), and it’s what our entire company is built upon. Some teachers use apps such as Remind101 – a free, one-way service for schools – to connect with students on their favorite channel: texting. Others use cell phones for safety purposes, encouraging students to anonymously report bullying threats to administrators via their cell phones. And every now and then, you may come across a teacher who allows students to listen to music on their phones during an in-class assignment. 

Schools choose it because: When schools embrace every teenager’s favorite accessory, it creates a partnership with students. It helps teachers effectively reach and relate to students, and opens the door for students to understand how technology can be used for education. Students and teachers end up learning from one another.

Potential problems:

  • Cyberbullying. Even more dangerous than students broadcasting hurtful things between classes, is the potential for them to broadcast these messages during class.
  • Control. Teachers and administrators can’t keep tabs on every cell phone screen. For the students who aren’t fond of rules, it can be nearly impossible to control their activity.
  • Cost. If teachers have students respond to assignments or questions via text, the students will probably love it. But as soon as parents see an increased cell phone bill, all bets are off.

What’s your school’s cell phone use policy? Let us know in the comments below!