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Will Shelter Island School ban cellphones? Board of Education to explore concept

When some Shelter Island teachers learned last October about social studies teacher Peter Miedema’s banning cellphones in his humanities class, they thought they would like to follow suit.

Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., told School Board members at the April 5 Board meeting that the subject will be on the table at the request of teachers. Board member Kathleen Lynch, a psychotherapist, said some of her young patients seek limits on phone use, realizing how much of their attention is devoted to text messages and alerts.

Ms. Lynch said there has been much written on the subject of how distracting cellphones can be.

Board President Margaret Colligan, a former teacher, said she would endorse banning cellphones during class time, except for her concern that in a crisis students would be unable to reach their families.

When Mr. Miedema began banning cellphone use in his classroom and collected the phones as students entered the room, returning the phones to the students at the end of the class, he said it was because “you cannot learn at the same time you are looking at other information.”

In the early days of the COVID pandemic, prior to Shelter Island students being able to return to the classroom, Mr. Miedema learned how difficult it was to teach classes virtually and build a rapport with students.

At the time, he said, competing with their attention to their cellphones was frustrating. Without face-to-face communication, there’s a critical element missing in teaching, he said.

“I didn’t become a teacher to be a police officer,” Mr. Miedema said about the pressure to stop students from paying more attention to him than to whatever was on the screens in their hands. “I’m not judging others, but I’m responsible for teaching the kids,” he said.

District Clerk Jacqueline Dunning will be contacting officials in neighboring districts to explore their policies on cellphone use that will help to inform the Board of Education as it explores the issue this summer.

Board members can expect to hear more from teachers and, likely, parents and students will weigh in on their views of a possible ban.