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BEYOND LOCAL: Teachers worry about conflicts with students over cell phone ban

Many questions still linger at local school boards about the province's ban on cell phones

The province's plan to crack down on cell phone use in the classroom has teachers across Waterloo region concerned about how the decision could alter classroom dynamics.

Last week, Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced stricter rules set to be implemented this fall meant to standardize processes and punishment across Ontario school boards for students who are repeatedly distracted by cell phone usage during class time.

Teachers are already instructed not to take student's property as this could lead to conflicts, and now local teachers' unions are questioning the implementation of the ban. 

"Teachers are worried about how this is going to be experienced on the front lines and how this all going to work," said Dave VandenBerg, president of Ontario Secondary School Teacher's Federation (OSSTF) District 24. 

"There is a lot of uncertainty from this provincial government, so who knows what is actually going to happen." 

VandenBerg notes that there are positives to the ban like increased focus in classrooms and reducing online bullying. 

The WRDSB is now in the process of trying to figure out how this ban will be implemented by teachers, noting that some schools have already started to review their cell phone policy over the past year. 

"We are committed to providing a supportive and enriching learning environment for all students. The collaborative and ongoing efforts in many WRDSB schools to implement shifts in cellphone use demonstrate our commitment to supporting student achievement and well-being," said the school board in an emailed statement to CambridgeToday. 

"In partnership with students, staff and families, a number of WRDSB secondary schools have changed their guidelines regarding cell phone use. This effort supports our commitment to centring student voices as outlined in the WRDSB Strategic Plan."

School board staff are currently putting together plans and will share them with students and parents when more information is available.  

VanderBerg notes that this ban comes on the heels of the province's funding announcement for the upcoming school year and thinks the timing of the cell phone ban is not a coincidence. 

"I think it's obvious that they are trying to use this cell phone story as a distraction from basically cutting funding to schools all over the province," he said.

"The province is not keeping up with inflation so while nominally they are spending the most money ever, it's not worth more." 

Since 2018, education funding in Ontario is down $1,357 per student when accounting for inflation; a total of $2.7 billion overall.

"The funding is just not the same. Just like with groceries, just because I am paying more for my food, doesn't mean I'm eating better," said VanderBerg. 

The cell phone ban will be implemented region-wide, starting in September. 

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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