Forest Hills to ban cellphones during school day

Kent County

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Smartphones have become about as common as a notebook and paper to most high school students.

But one West Michigan school district is telling students to keep their cellphones in their lockers next school year.  

The policy is set to go into effect in the Forest Hills Public School District at the beginning of the school year next fall.

“What we’re asking is that students essentially park their cellphones in their lockers during the day,” said Christine Annese, the district’s assistant superintendent.

As the parent of two Forest Hills high schoolers, Ally Stein is skeptical of how the policy will be enforced.

“They’ll put it in their pocket or… they’ll find some way,” Stein said.

But as a therapist specializing in addiction counseling, she’s all for the policy.

“I’m telling you, it’s like an addiction. I do addiction work and they need that break,” Stein said.  “And it’s going to be hard for a lot of them.”

Annese says Superintendent Dan Behm first noticed the problem during lunch with students.

“Students started talking to him about how they were spending so much time on their cellphones,” Annese said. “And it was causing anxiety. They were worried about what people were posting on social media.”

A committee of Forest Hills administrators, counselors and mental health professionals began research on cellphone use and teen happiness.  

They noticed something at the beginning of the decade when smartphones started becoming more common among students. 

“There was a direct correlation to the increase in teen depression, teen anxiety and a decrease in their life happiness with that cellphone use,” Annese said.

Stein sees the same symptoms when she evaluates patients.

“I would say the phone is the number one thing that from eighth grade to senior that brings the kids in with either suicidal thoughts or bullying because of social media,” Stein said.

The policy is simple.

Next fall, Forest Hills students will be required to keep the phones in their lockers. 

“Instead of being at the lunch table and being on their cellphones, they’re going to be talking to each other and they’re going to be building those relationships that are so important,” Annese said.

Annese says the district’s parent advisory committee approved the plan.

24 Hour News 8 reached out to school districts throughout West Michigan.

Of those got back with us, none of them ban cellphones from the classroom but do restrict or prohibit classroom use. 

But is the Forest Hills policy reflective of the digital world?

Students use cellphones to do more than communicate with each other.

From homework to extracurricular activity schedules, cellphones provided access.

School officials say students will still have access to school-provided technology in the classroom.

If a parent needs to get a hold of their student during the school day, phones in the office will still be available.  

“I think we would ask parents to reflect back on what they did before that kind of 2010, 2011 period when smartphones and cellphones weren’t readily available to students,” Annese said.

How will students connect with the outside in an emergency, like an active shooter situation?

Annese says teachers still have access to the phones in the classroom.

“There wasn’t a situation that we could come up with were having a student have access to a cellphone would in any way impact that sort of unfortunate crisis that might occur,” she said. 

In the fall, Forest Hills Students will break both physically and mentally from their cellphones.

But will seven hours a day without their phones really make a difference in those students’ lives?

“I think it can,” Annese said.

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