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Columbia teachers union says cellphone use is hindering learning in the classroom


Columbia Public Schools is asking parents to help keep students off their cellphones while in school.

CPS Superintendent Brian Yearwood sent a letter to parents this month asking for help with students being on their phones in class. The district is asking parents to tell students to put away their cellphones when they are in class unless a teacher says they can use them.

"While these are great for providing a feeling of safety and security when children are away from home, appropriate time and place of usage of these devices during the school day can be an issue," Yearwood wrote.

Noelle Gilzow -- a teacher at CPS and president of the Columbia Missouri chapter of the National Education Association -- said cellphones have been a hindrance to the learning process.

"We have noticed over time a gradual increase in student engagement with their cell phones instead of with their classmates, the content, the classroom in general," Gilzow said.

While there is no data directly correlating cell phone use to classroom performance at CPS, Gilzow said district data shows students are not performing as well as they should. In an October board meeting, data presented showed third-through-eighth grade reading levels stayed the same from last school year, and math increased by two percent.

"They're not really seeing much improvement from last year, and the flatness of that curve is concerning to the administration," Gilzow said.

She said cellphones are being seen at the high school and middle school levels, and are beginning to impact older elementary students, as well.

The letter from Yearwood states cellphones should be put away unless permitted by a teacher. However, Gilzow said some teachers are more lenient with cellphones, causing those that don't want students to have their phones out to seem like the bad guy.

Missouri State Teachers Association spokesman Todd Fuller said it's important for districts to communicate the policy and be clear about what the rule is.

"Teachers shouldn't be put in the place of trying to make sure they mandate a policy or articulate a policy that hasn't been clearly communicated by the school district," Fuller said.

At CPS, Gilzow said some teachers are in favor of a cell-phone ban, while more want a well-communicated and enforced policy.

"If the district is very interested in helping students achieve at the level we know they're capable of, we really need to make a concerted effort as a team--teachers, administrators, parents and even students--on trying to engage more with their learning," Gilzow said.

The Moberly School District bars students from having cellphones with them at school. Superintendent Cristina Wright said this is giving students a chance to focus on academics during the day.

"I know that our staff would absolutely say we're seeing an increase in engagement and participation," Wright said.

ABC 17 News asked CPS spokesperson Michelle Baumstark in an email if the district has any plans to implement a new cellphone policy or ban. However, she did not directly answer that question in her response. She said the letter sent to parents this month is asking for families to help students follow existing rules.

Gilzow said teachers have been clammoring for a cellphone policy, mentioning a recent CMNEA survey had cell phone comments outnumber those of teacher compensation almost 2-1.

Gilzow said part of the problem is parents that want to be able to reach their child at any time during the day. She said some students know they shouldn't have their phone out, but would rather get in trouble with their teacher for having a phone than their parent for not answering a text.

"I think there needs to be a pretty strong communication and onboarding of the parents that immediate access to all texts and calls isn't conducive to the learning environment," Gilzow said.

The letter from Yearwood said if families need to reach out to their child while class is in session, they are encouraged to call the main office and the staff will relay that message to the student.

For parents worried about emergencies, Gilzow said she thinks there could be a strong cell phone policy put in place, but those rules could be suspended in extreme situations.

In Moberly, Wright said there won't be time for students to get a phone before following the school's emergency action plan during extreme cases. In other emergencies, she said students can make calls to family from office or classroom phones.

Yearwood says CPS uses a Behavior Support Plan that explains consequences for inappropriate and/or disruptive behavior, which includes cellphones. The response levels in this plan range from classroom intervention with discipline to expulsion.

Article Topic Follows: Education

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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