‘Those dastardly cellphones,’ student behavior hot topics at school board’s public input session

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

Lawrence school board member Bob Byers, left, responds to a question about student cellphone usage during a public input session designed to solicit feedback on topics pertinent to the school district.

Cellphones are the biggest threat to student success, one educator said Monday at an informal public input session held by the Lawrence school board.

Monday night’s “Beyond the Boardroom” session at Community Connections at Pinckney was attended by eight members of the public, as well as board members Bob Byers, Carole Cadue-Blackwood, Ronald “G.R.” Gordon-Ross, Kelly Jones and Shannon Kimball. Board members Erica Hill and Paula Vann were not present.

Helen Barbee, an English as a Second Language paraprofessional at Free State High School, pointed to unregulated cellphone use as the biggest disrupter of classroom instruction for both students and teachers. Barbee said that she has an “eagle-eye view” of what’s happening in district classrooms, “because I’m right there every day.”

“The main thing that’s bringing our students’ learning abilities down is those dastardly cellphones,” Barbee said. “It’s amazing how the kids ignore the instructors when they’re teaching.”

Jones, the school board president, said that there is a policy governing students’ cellphone usage at the middle school level, but it’s guidance for building administrators as opposed to a formal policy, and that a policy was also recently explored at the high school level.

Barbee cited specific examples of “things they do on their phones during class time,” including playing games, taking selfies, and making calls to peers in other classrooms to gossip, adding that “the gossip leads to problems.” Barbee said that one Free State teacher asked her class 10 times during one class period to put their phones away, and that only two or three students obliged.

“They do everything in their power to keep from following instructions,” she said. “I would say that 70% of those students are struggling because of their cellphones. The attention-span is just not there where it should be.”

Barbee said that the district needs to implement a policy banning cellphones “across the board” during instructional-time.

“If those cellphones are removed, I think you will see the test scores go through the roof because that would challenge them to use their minds,” Barbee said.

Byers, the board’s vice president, said that “cellphones present an issue” that has no easy fix. One possible remedy, Byers said, was searching for ways to “invite parents into education,” explaining that parental involvement is crucial to successful outcomes for students.

“My parents were involved and made sure we went to school prepared to learn and that we behaved,” he said. “And I don’t know that that happens that much anymore. I think a lot of it is ‘get them ready, get them to school,’ and the education is the schools’ responsibility.”

Byers was also unsure if parental-intervention in the area of students’ cellphones was a feasible solution.

“I think telling parents to take their kids’ cellphones would be a war,” Byers said. “That’s not trying to say we shouldn’t correct it in some way, but I think (if we did) we would hear a huge outcry.”

Other areas of discussion at the meeting included:

* Teacher retention. Meeting attendee Melody Alexander, who said she had friends that are teachers, said that the district is not providing educators with enough resources to be successful in the classroom and that it’s leading to frustration. She said that some of the district’s teachers have requested that the district return an elementary school learning platform known as Seesaw in its full version, and not the free version she said that’s currently in use at the district.

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

Melody Alexander, right, provides feedback during the Lawrence school board’s public input session on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, at Pinckney Community Connections.

“There are thousands of lesson plans that are not accessible because it wasn’t provided the way that they asked for it,” she said. “We need to provide our teachers with resources. Rather than talk about these phenomenal raises they got last year, be honest about it and say ‘we are burying them.'”

Jones agreed that more can be done to support teachers.

“I definitely think what you’re saying about retention and teachers being buried is a real thing,” she said, “and wanting to better support them in a way that we can see that stress reduced.”

* School closures. Alexander also said that she has two children that were affected by the closure of Pinckney Elementary School earlier this year, and that they are now being “underserved” at Hillcrest and Woodlawn elementary schools.

“It’s “distressing,” she said, adding that her children were still mourning the closure of Pinckney.

“Our schools are about our children, and quite simply we are failing,” she said. “We have to do better.”

* Bullying. Another attendee of the meeting left the room after becoming emotional when discussing bullying that she said her child has been subjected to at one of the district’s middle schools.

Though the topic was not addressed further, Jones told the Journal-World after the meeting that she knew tough questions would be asked, and she was pleased to hear the public’s input.

As the Journal-World previously reported, the school board has shown interest in having “Beyond the Boardroom” meetings on a near-monthly basis, but details on another one were not made public Monday.


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