The president of the Hamilton branch of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario says her union did not vote for a ban on cell phones in the classroom, but instead is pushing for more "oversight" on the use of mobile devices in schools.
During their annual general meeting this week, members passed a resolution updating the ETFO's position on personal electronic devices in the classroom. Some media reports suggested the union was lobbying for a "ban," prompting a mixed reaction among teachers and parents.
"The policy itself and the intention of the policy hasn't changed," said Lisa Hammond, president of the ETFO's Hamilton-Wentworth Teacher branch, adding her union "does not speak to or support" an outright ban on cell phones in the province's public elementary schools.
A new recommendation is that cell phones be turned off and put in a bag or drawer during class time "unless their use is authorized by staff."
The old policy asked public boards to mandate that cell phones be stowed, but not necessarily shut off, during instructional time, Hammond said.
The revision "is needed to deal with phones ringing and vibrating in the classroom," she said.
The name of the policy, Hammond said, has also been changed to deal with the fact that mobile devices are a fact of life not just in the classroom, but also in the halls and on the playground.
The aim, she said, is to encourage school boards to adopt policies that discourage the "inappropriate" use of cell phones — particularly, the "cyberbullying and harassment of school staff and students" — wherever it might occur.
Hammond said the ETFO "is not concerned about the appropriate use" of cell phones and noted that many students have board-approved individual learning plans that allow them to use mobile devices on a regular basis.
Policies already in place
Zoe Branigan-Pipe, a teacher with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board who lectures at Brock University on the role of new technology in the classroom, said the ETFO's recommendations are consistent with "safe use" policies that are already in place at most public boards in the province.
However, she said she's concerned that the wording of the resolution will discourage boards from treating mobile devices as tools for learning.
"There's the feeling that cell phones are a hazard to the teaching profession," she said. "I think the policies may bring out that scare and that worry instead of bringing out the training and education aspect of it."
Branigan-Pipe herself allows cell phones in the classroom setting and has encouraged gifted middle-schoolers she's taught to use mobile devices as well as other high-tech tools to take notes, snap pictures and even create content as part of their coursework.
Teachers have the responsibility, she added, to educate students on how to use cell phones responsibly — what she views as a key competency for 21st-century life.
"As educators, our job is to work for the public and for the parents, to make them happy and do what we can for the community."