New protocols on student cell phone use recently came down from Skagway’s school and caused a noticeable hullabaloo on Facebook – and few things in this town catch the attention like a post on Skagway Swap with hundreds of comments.

The letter sent to parents states the new protocols will restrict cell phone access and use by students grades 7-12 in class. Students have to store their devices in lockers or in a drawer teachers will set aside for temporarily holding the distracting squares of circuitry. They will still have access to phones over lunch, as the mandate currently only applies to instructional time in classrooms.

This is a solid move by the school, and one that can only enhance the learning environment local students are swimming in. Technology is a helpful tool, but too much exposure flips its positives into negatives.

There are drawbacks to the policy, of course. Some people work better with their music playing, and there are innumerable apps available for smart devices that – if are not directly geared towards leaning and education – can greatly assist with productivity. Taking notes, recording lessons, calculator apps and saving constant expenses and paper waste on endless notebooks are just a few benefits that an iPhone or Android can have in the classroom.

Another rational concern with the policy is parents wanting ease of contact for with their children. This is completely understandable, but as much as one can empathize with that want for easy communication in cases of emergencies, the negatives of smartphone use and accessibly in school outweigh the benefits. One study showed students not actively using mobile phones did markedly better in information gathering and recollection, as well as testing better over the subjects at hand.

More than this, simple reality proves humans work better when focusing on one thing.

We all think we can multi-task flawlessly, but we cannot. It’s why in the United States, approximately nine people are killed and over 1,000 injured every day in distracted driving accidents.

No matter how adept you are at focusing on two separate things, your attention will waver on one or the other.

Absolute policies like this do present another problem: Is the school cracking down too hard, and is this an overreach into the student’s rights?

It’s not a question to be hand-waived away, because much of the educational system balances, or should balance, the education of students with their rights as human beings.

After all, if the Municipality of Skagway suddenly started passing laws to take phones away from anyone scrolling through Facebook while on the clock at work, citizens would assumedly and rightfully throw a fit.

Ultimately though, there is a difference between clamping down on students with total authority, and guiding their education through the use of stricter policies.

On March 14, the local students freely exercised their rights by peaceably protesting gun violence. A number of high schoolers left their desks and classrooms to go stand outside the school with signs, letting their opinions on certain issues be known [See Page 8 for more information]. The administration would have been wrong to try and stop this demonstration, as it would have infringed the rights of the students participating.

America promotes, permits and even encourages this behavior, and the difference between the March 14 protest and a new protocol on phones should be apparent.

It’s the beauty of our system that everyone can make their opinions heard on any issue. It’s why government meetings have open comments sessions, so citizens can petition their concerns to those in charge.

So if students are upset about the new phone policy, they just need to prove to the administration that they can be responsible.

Simple as that.

If you disagree with the policy, show them you can resist reaching for that distracting screen, or make your case for the educational benefits of it.

The school board meets once a month, and its members have often said they like it when students attend those meetings…

-DF