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Bow Valley schools to dial in on cellphone use

“I believe this school division would welcome some sort of direction with regards to how this is uniformly done.”

BOW VALLEY – Bow Valley classrooms and school networks will become a dead zone for cellphones and social media in the 2024-25 school year.

At the direction of Alberta’s education ministry, Canadian Rockies Public Schools (CRPS) and other school divisions across the province will be required to adopt policies and procedures around personal mobile devices in schools by Sept. 1.

“I believe this school division would welcome some sort of direction with regards to how this is uniformly done,” said CRPS superintendent Chris MacPhee. “We’ve personally seen it ourselves over the years, everything you’re hearing on the radio or TV, with regards to instructional time lost, to bullying.

“We know these things are happening because if they’re utilizing our system at all, we know it. They leave a digital footprint.”

The Alberta government-led initiative is intended to safeguard student mental health and reduce distractions in schools, from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

The change comes after the province heard from more than 68,000 parents, teachers, students and other education partners that personal mobile devices, as well as social media, can harm student achievement and mental health.

The College of Alberta School Superintendents, Alberta Teachers Association (ATA), Alberta Schools Councils Association and other key education stakeholders have voiced support for the move, with exceptions expected for medical and specialized learning needs.

Andrea Holowka, president of the College of Alberta Superintendents, said in a press release it supports the move “to promote the safety and well-being of students.”

“Respecting the flexibility of school authorities to meet the unique learning needs of students within a regulatory framework is practical and greatly appreciated,” she stated.

A recent survey by the ATA found 75 per cent of Alberta teachers support smartphone-free classrooms and many Alberta schools and school divisions have already made steps in this direction.

Jason Schilling, president of ATA, said in a Twitter post the organization was “encouraged”, but there was “much work to be done”.

School boards will implement and enforce the new rules, Alberta Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said when announcing the new guidelines, but it would have to meet provincial regulations.

“Parents and guardians should stay tuned to their local school authority over the coming months for more details,” he said.

Since 2018, Lawrence Grassi Middle School’s policy for Grade 4-8 students is to keep personal digital devices in a backpack or locker until the end of the school day, including morning and lunch breaks while on school property.

MacPhee noted devices such as tablets and personal laptops can be used as learning tools during class time but only under supervision of a teacher and not during breaks.

“That same policy is utilized at Banff Elementary School, from what I understand, as well as Exshaw School,” he added.

Regulations are generally less cut and dry in CRPS high schools, however.

“Our high schools are a little bit more open and that maintains, but we’ll see how things go,” said MacPhee. “Right now, it’s up to teachers and if the teacher’s rules are that a phone needs to be put away or they see it as a distraction, then it will be confiscated until the end of the lesson.

“Right now, enforcement is kind of inconsistent and it varies from class to class and teacher to teacher, cause some folks use these devices as teaching tools, too.”

MacPhee said CRPS is using a “wait and see” approach for now, hoping to receive more direction from the province before developing uniform policy around personal mobile devices for the school division.

Alberta’s new standards will introduce guidelines for K-12 public, separate, francophone, public charter, independent school authorities, and early childhood services operators, following in the footsteps of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, where similar province-wide cellphone policies have been enforced in schools in recent years.

School authorities will develop tailored policies for personal mobile devices and social media, aligning with provincial standards while maintaining flexibility to meet local needs, with implementation details to be shared with parents and guardians in the near future.

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.

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