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Florida Students Debate Cellphone Use With Superintendent

At Angeline Academy of Innovation in Land O’ Lakes, Fla., three students found the superintendent’s latest proposal so distasteful they made it the subject of their entrepreneurship class project.

students on cellphone
(TNS) — Word spread quickly in November after a television report aired saying Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning planned to ban student cellphones starting in August 2024.

Browning worked afterward to clarify that he simply wanted phones off and out of sight unless teachers give permission. But even that possible change disgruntled teens across the school district, who this year faced new rules saying they could use their phones only during passing periods and lunch time.

At Angeline Academy of Innovation in Land O’ Lakes, three students found the superintendent’s latest proposal so distasteful they made it the subject of their entrepreneurship class project. After weeks spent researching the pros and cons of cellphones, including careful consideration of Browning’s stated rationale, the girls took the next logical step.

They invited him to their school for a chat.

“We want to convince him not to ban phones next year,” said Giavanna Romero, who worked on the project with fellow students Kyandra Valle and Caitlin Sukpanichnant.

Impressed by their gumption, Browning showed up one afternoon last week for an hourlong conversation with the eighth and ninth graders and their teacher, Chad Mallo.

The superintendent took notes as he listened to the students make their case why teens should retain access to their phones throughout the school day. Some might need to communicate with parents, they said, and some might use their phones for music and apps to decompress during down times.

“Kids are less defiant when they can utilize a cellphone as a positive outlet during authorized times,” Sukpanichnant told Browning.

They talked about the uneven access that students have to technology if they rely on schools for devices needed for coursework. And they argued that if schools are concerned about kids posting videos of fights and other happenings, the district should take more steps to set clear rules and consequences specifically for those actions.

“If there was a solution, kids wouldn’t record a fight because they wouldn’t want the consequence, like a one day out of school suspension,” Valle said, also noting that it might help to have a student sit on the committee that writes the student code of conduct.

“We believe that when rules like this are put in place, we should have a say,” Romero added.

Browning expressed surprise that no students sit on the code of conduct committee, and said that might need to change. He said he also planned to meet with small groups of students in the spring to hear more of their concerns on phones and other district issues.

Turning his attention to the girls’ presentation, Browning pushed back against some of their other arguments. He reiterated that he was not calling for a phone ban, for instance, and he questioned whether students need to have their attention “buried in cellphones” during lunch and passing periods.

“I think we’re losing the ability to communicate with one another,” Browning told the girls.

At the end of the session, though, Browning acknowledged that while he might be able to punch holes in some of the students’ positions, they could do the same to many of his positions. He praised the girls for offering solutions rather than simply complaining, and said they gave him something to think about as his team considers its cellphone rules for 2024-25.

“I’m not quite sure yet where we’re going to land,” Browning said. “They made some valid points.”

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