Williamston High School considers new smartphone policy amid class action lawsuit

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The Williamston Board of Education is planning to change the high school’s cell phone policy for the upcoming fall semester to allow more policy enforcement. The high school is a part of a class action lawsuit against social media platforms.

The smart device policy was on the discussion agenda at the Board of Education meeting on March 5. Board of Education President Nancy Deal said she hopes the board will be able to approve a new policy at their special meeting on April 1.

Prioritizing mental health among teen students is a key factor in the creation of the new phone policy. Williamston Superintendent Adam Spina emphasized that student’s mental health is a priority when making new policy.

“I would look at it more as the restriction of smart devices related to the district’s ongoing efforts to support adolescent learners’ mental health,” he said.

He also mentioned that the mental health crisis among teens is a reason Williamston Community Schools is part of a class action lawsuit against parent companies of social media platforms.

The lawsuit is seeking changes to how major social media companies run and how they market their platforms to children and adolescents, according to Spina. Members of the board expressed concern about the lack of safety restrictions on social media platforms.

Williamston did not have a specific incident to push the school district to join the lawsuit, but Deal said some students have had negative experiences with social media. She explained joining the lawsuit will reinforce the need to regulate restrictions on social media for the safety of students.

“We have had those situations, where someone was threatened or bullied over social media,” she said. “I would like to see some of those age restrictions put on [the platforms].”

Spina and Trustee Dave Indish offered data insight on phone use at school before opening the discussion up to other board members.

Spina listed approaches other school districts are taking with their smart device policies. Indish said that other schools in the state and around the country had focused on two different approaches to the policy. 

One approach allowed phones to be used during passing time, but not in the classroom, while the other did not allow phones to be brought out at any point during the day.

Spina also mentioned that at a superintendent round table, he discovered Williamston’s current phone policy was very lax.

“Only one other district in the country has as permissive a policy as we do,” he said.

Williamston’s current phone policy in the student handbook states “Cell phones and electronic devices (ECDs) shall not be used during instructional time without the direct and explicit permission of the classroom teacher or at any school-sponsored events where there is a reasonable expectation of quiet attentiveness or where the device would cause any disruption.”

Deal said that while this policy may be written in the handbook, there is no way for teachers to enforce the policy without infringing on student’s personal property.

“That’s kind of just a statement,” she said. “There was no consequence to that.”

Deal said each teacher tends to follow their own phone policy in their classroom, but some have trouble giving consequences to students who don’t adhere to their policy because there is no policy outline, or a plan for those who violate it.

Spina recommended that the board decide what type of phone policy will be enforced and that the high school administration team develop a policy that will be put in the student handbook. The board will then approve the handbook with the new phone policy in it.

“The tricky thing with this is we are on a timeline,” Deal said. “We need to bring it back for discussion if we want this to be done in the fall.”

Deal explained that the Williamston High School handbook needs to be approved by the board in May, so the policy needs to be decided on before then.

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