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Indian River Superintendent on Cellphone Law: 'We Would Love the Help'

Chief administrator of Indian River Central School District in New York said he welcomes the idea of a statewide policy restricting the use of smartphones during class, which have become controversial and distracting.

A group of young adults sitting on a bench on a sidewalk all looking down at their phones.
(TNS) — As Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul begins to push legislation that would ban smartphones in school, one local superintendent says schools can use all the help they can get.

"We would love the help," Indian River Central School District Superintendent Troy Decker said.

Hochul plans to launch the bill later this year to be voted on in January, when the state's next legislative session begins.

"As much as it would be nice to say we banned phones in school completely, the actual implementation of such a thing becomes its own distraction," Decker said.

At the secondary level at Indian River, phones are allowed at lunch and in a limited capacity between classes.

There is also limited use of smartphones during instruction as they are allowed in certain locations in certain instances. Decker said this is to "manage the flow of information that they have in their pocket in a positive way."

Areas where students are not allowed to use cellphones include locker rooms, bathrooms, during assessments and certain classes.

At the middle school, there is very limited usage, almost none, according to Decker.

"That said, at the middle school level, cellphones are a significant distraction because almost all the students have them," he said.

At the primary level, students are not allowed to use cellphones.

"There really is no place for cellphones other than in lockers, cubbies, and bookbags at any time during the day," Decker said.

Hochul has previously said to news organizations that the ban would be for smartphones and would allow for flip phones in school, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.

There is a struggle teaching students how to use technology wisely and to their advantage as adults can have difficulties themselves with their smartphones, Decker said.

He said some of the ways parents can teach their kids healthy use of their phones and technology is by modeling the appropriate use of technology; using phones as positive reinforcement; teaching students how to use technology as a communication tool; and not use phones as a time filler.

"It's much more fun probably to play a game on your cellphone than it is to finish your homework, but again, you have to get the homework done," Decker said.

Decker added that they will work with parents by offering seminars for parents, engaging them through social media, and through ParentSquare to help reinforce positive practices.

"But it's also not easy," Decker said. "We get it, people are tied to their phones, adults and kids."

He said the biggest struggle is at the late elementary age from grades 4-6.

"They have the Internet in their pockets, they have the ability to communicate anytime, anywhere from that phone with anyone, friend or foe," he said. "And those students are not always developmentally ready for the responsibility that comes with having such devices."

The other struggle is that taking a cellphone away from a child means taking away their form of communication with their friends.

"So, if you take away the cellphone, you're in a sense, limiting your child's ability to communicate with their peers, and that has its own damage," Decker said. "The answer really centers around multiple families and deciding that their children are not going to have smartphones where they can be part of social media groups."

Although he admits this thought is a "bit of a pipe dream" but says if the legislation goes through that parents may make the decision to use give their child a flip phone instead of a cellphone.

Decker said he would be in favor of finding some way to limit smartphone usage in school to the times, places, and ages where it is appropriate.

"I would be in favor of anything that assists in limiting the distractions that are smartphones at this point, and I think the school would appreciate the help from the legislative side," he said.

Hochul has also set out to improve children's mental health through more regulations restricting the way social media companies use algorithms to target content to children.

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