Toronto school bans cellphones from class to dial back on distraction

Parents at Earl Grey Senior Public School prompted ban after complaining about a lack of focus and inappropriate use by students.

Parents sparked the ban by complaining about lack of focus in students and inappropriate phone use

Hayden Rooney is a Grade 8 student at Earl Grey. Beginning Tuesday, students can't use their phones in class or in the hallways. (CBC)

Students at Earl Grey Senior Public School now have to keep their cellphones out of the classroom — a move prompted by their parents. 

The new policy rolled out at the east-end school on Tuesday after parents complained about kids using their phones for the wrong reasons, according to Toronto District School Board spokesman Ryan Bird.

Students must now leave their phones in their lockers during class and between classes, and upper grades are not permitted to check their phones at lunch or use social media.

"​The main problem was that people were texting each other during class hours, and playing games in the bathroom," Grade 8 student Hayden Rooney told CBC Toronto.

"It's not the worst ban, but it was really useful to use our phones for research or for calculators."

The TDSB had a blanket ban on cell phones in school until 2011. Now, they leave it up to individual schools and classrooms. (CBC)

Maxim Montreuil, in Grade 7, said he liked to use his phone's Google Translate app. And he expressed concern about leaving the device in a locker all day.

"They should have a basket where you can put your phones in, because anyone could just break into your locker," he said.

Grade 7 student Tiernan Jory cut straight to the chase: "It's sad, there's your answer." 

'Finding that balance'

The school board had a blanket ban on cell phones until 2011, but then decided to let the schools make up their own systems.

"It's about finding that balance between harnessing the power of technology and how it engages kids, and at the same time it can be a massive distraction," said Bird, the board spokesman.

He said that the TDSB encourages using technology in class when it fits into a lesson or project. The board also owns tablets and laptops to help students get better acquainted with working online.

TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird said educators are being challenged to find a balance between teaching about technology and student distraction. (CBC)

A responsibility to teach technology?

Earl Grey's approach stands in contrast to that of other schools around the Greater Toronto Area, particularly at the Peel District School Board.

In 2013, the board added Wi-Fi connectivity to all 240 of its schools. It also introduced a policy that encourages students to bring cellphones and tablets to school.

The board's co-ordinating principal of modern learning said that the distraction issue has to be managed like any other, but not at the expense of giving kids access to technology.

Lawrence DeMaeyer said that the Peel board feels that it's essential to prepare students to use the technology they'll need out in the world.

"If we ignore or exclude those tools from the classroom, I think we're kind of avoiding our responsibility."

With files from Adrian Cheung