Under Pilot Policy, BHS Students will Forego Phones in Class 

April 11, 2024
Bedford High School students will return from their spring vacation on April 29 to begin a pilot program eliminating access to cellphones during instructional time. Photo: Robert Dorer

Bedford High School students will return from their spring vacation on April 29 to begin a pilot program eliminating access to cellphones during instructional time.

The experiment will continue through the school year, and could be adopted as a year-long pilot for 2025-26, ultimately becoming permanent policy in the fall of 2026, said BHS Principal Heather Galante.

Phones will be collected before each class session, according to the plan, with some calling it “bell-to-bell no cell.” Students will have access to their phones during lunch and other breaks from the academic schedule.

“Post-pandemic, we have seen an uptick in distractibility” tied to cellphone use,” Galante told the School Committee on Tuesday. Cellphone use also is having an impact on “engagement in the school community,” she said.

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Funded by a state grant, she continued, a study group of nine teachers spent almost a year collecting information and presenting it to faculty and parents. 

“We talked about it at mid-year assemblies,” she said.

Parents and caregivers received a letter last week with the details, the principal continued. During the seven-week period this spring, she said, the administration will collect information through surveys and observation from students, faculty, staff, and parents, and evaluate the new system.

“Other school districts have had a lot of success with this,” Galante said, and she is optimistic about the reception at BHS because of the strength of relations between students and teachers and the administration.

In a letter to students, the study committee wrote, “Many schools around us have already tried going cell phone-free during classes, and they’ve seen some great results. Students are more engaged, and they’re connecting with each other more.”

BHS junior Shreyes Shivappa, the student representative to the School Committee, said some students are “apprehensive” about the experiment. He said students were involved in the process leading to the decision. “We met with a psychologist to discuss students’ perspective on the impact” of separating from cellphones, he noted.

That was Dr. Alex Hirshberg, the cell phone committee reported in a letter to parent. Hirshberg “presented data highlighting that, in addition to affecting students’ ability to focus, cell phones have contributed to an increase in mental health conditions, especially anxiety and depression, among teenagers and adults.”

“Most of us have been previewing this with our students,” said English teacher Jillian Butler, a member of the study committee. She acknowledged that “there’s a lot of apprehension,” but added that most students “see the logic in it.”

Her colleague Nicole Myles, on the special-education faculty, said, “There are students who hide themselves behind their phones.” Other students, she said, are looking forward to an end to “being snubbed by somebody looking at their phones while trying to have a conversation. Our students are going to rise to the occasion and teachers will be happy to have their attention for the full 70 minutes.” 

Another member of the study committee, world language teacher Lisa Taub, added, “The kids are going to be so much more engaged.”

Asked by committee member Sarah McGinley about the percentage of BHS students with cellphones, Galante said virtually all of them. Some students require access to phones for medical reason, she noted.

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