Skip to content

A Discussion with Superintendent Dan Behm on the New Cell Phone Policy

From the Co-Editors-in-Chief:

On June 21st, 2019, Forest Hills Public Schools unveiled its new cell phone policy which states in part, “Students will not be allowed to carry or use cell phones during the school day. Phones are available in the office of each school should a student need to contact their parent. If families believe that their child needs access to a cell phone before or after school, it will be the student’s responsibility to ensure that their phone remains stored away from the classroom while they are at school.” Mixed reactions from teachers, students, and parents alike have led to a broad conversation on how much is too much in terms of cell phone usage among teenagers. Three members of the Hawk Herald — Isabel Gil (’21), Nathan La Huis (’20), and Josephine Ness (’20) —  sat down with Superintendent Dan Behm on August 28th to discuss the new policy and what it means for students at Forest Hills Eastern and throughout the district.

The creation of the new cell phone policy was a lengthy process. A working group of administrators, principals, counselors, and teachers met last spring to craft the new guidelines, which were later approved by Superintendent Dan Behm. An example from Silicon Valley, says Behm, is what helped sway the committee in the direction of banning cell phones altogether. “I think the studies that moved the committee the most was the understanding that private schools in Silicon Valley, where the children of the executives and engineers who were creating these products were sent, were cell phone-free.” The working group tested this policy at Forest Hills Northern Middle School. According to Behm, the feedback from students and parents was mostly positive.

The administration’s overarching goal in the restriction of phone use during school hours is to create a space in which students and staff members can be fully present. The policy aims to combat some of the downsides of cell phones to create a more suitable learning environment. Mr. Behm explained, “these tools have powerful impacts on our brains neurological systems and I think it’s important that we understand that and try to manage that. We want to minimize distractions and maximize learning.”

While the policy seems strict, the administration is willing to make accommodations when necessary. An example of an acceptable use of a cell phone is to monitor insulin levels. Mr. Behm clarified that “when it comes to accommodations we are not looking to restrict access to the phone. I think the biggest piece around trying to go cell phone-free is to mitigate the distractions as well as the high frequency of use in a way that may be counterproductive to what we are trying to do academically.” Behm also said that the district would be open to adjusting the policy based on the needs of students, specifically those with health necessities.

On the topic of school safety, communication is vital. Technology can be an important contributor to communicating a message to a large group of people. According to Mr. Behm, however, security experts have not named cell phones as a necessary means of accomplishing this. “If it’s something where it’s tucked away in their backpack, we’re not looking to micromanage those types of management techniques that students use.”

Mr. Behm conceded that, in some circumstances, we are sacrificing efficiency for the sake of creating a phone-free space. When it comes to communicating with parents during school hours, he suggested the use of phone calls to the office and emails. While cell phones are the most efficient method of communication, he emphasized that there are acceptable replacements. He explained that “It’s not [his] desire to disconnect from this rapidly evolving digital world, it’s just to create a time of the day where we can take a break from that for a while.”

Mr. Behm has high hopes regarding the effects of the new policy in the future. He noted that Eastern’s culture has greatly shifted towards being more positive and inclusive in the last several years, and he hopes that limiting the use of cell phones will contribute to this shift. He described the policy’s contribution as the creation of “environments where nonverbal body language communication can be emphasized and experienced” and predicted that these environments “might also help to create a stronger social network.”