Sag Harbor School Board to Tackle Middle School Cell Phone Policy

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Brittany Carriero, assistant principal of Pierson Middle School, discusses the school's cell phone policy on June 4. Christine Sampson photo

When a state-issued Amber Alert sounded an alarm on what seemed like everybody’s cell phone two weeks ago advising people to “check your local media,” students at Pierson Middle School were a bit shaken up.

That’s according to parents including Jill Musnicki, whose sixth-grader doesn’t have a cell phone but is impacted by their distractions nonetheless. She thinks it’s time to shake up the school district’s cell phone policy to minimize the problem.

“Already a lot of kids are nervous about these shootings and lockdown drills and this and that, and suddenly these phones are going off and causing momentary panic,” she said in an interview this week. “These kids don’t need that. They need to go to school, be safe, do their work, and not be anxious about these things.”

To Ms. Musnicki, the Amber Alert wasn’t the biggest issue. Kids seem to be on their phones throughout their lunch periods, when they should be interacting and relaxing with their peers, she said.

“School can be that place where you can be pretty confident you know your kid is going to learn and socialize,” she said. But the phones are “mini-computers. There are ways to access stuff” on them that kids “aren’t old enough to deal with. School should be the place that it shouldn’t happen.”

During Monday’s meeting of the Sag Harbor School Board, board members and administrators agreed to revisit the cell phone policy, which they had included on the agenda after a flurry of feedback on the topic.

Currently, the policy allows phones at school but they must be kept in lockers during classes. Phones can be used during lunchtime and the academic support period, and with the permission of a teacher for a specific “instructional purpose.”

Parents have alleged the policy is not being enforced.

“This is a hot topic among parents and stakeholders,” said Brittany Carriero, the middle school assistant principal. “We will do whatever people are for. With the changing cohort of parents, it shifts.”

Some board members cited the East Hampton Middle School policy, which is titled “No Display During the School Day.” Dr. Charlie Soriano, East Hampton’s school principal, explained in an interview that students may keep their cell phones on them, but may not bring them out or use them.

“It’s important for kids to actually have a phone, I think, should an emergency arise. But to have it out in school is not appropriate,” Dr. Soriano said.

He said the policy is strictly enforced and the best benefit is “miraculously good behavior” and good social interaction during lunch and recess.

Sag Harbor parent Helen Roussel, who has a son in seventh grade and two daughters who will be sixth graders next year at Pierson, said in an interview she would support a policy in which phones have to be in lockers during the day.

“It has been widely documented that cell phones act as a stimulant, similar to drugs, and emotionally isolate people,” she said. “With all the dangers that our youth face today that are out of our control, why would you expose them to less social interaction than they already have? We don’t have a formal community youth center in our village. We should insist when they are at school, socializing with their peers without distractions is a top priority.”

According to a survey published at awayfortheday.com, a website set up by the team behind the “Screenagers” documentary, 75 percent of teachers reported that students’ attention spans have decreased.

“Currently, the policy is too lax,” said Diane Hewitt, a Noyac mother of a Pierson sixth grader and 10th grader. “East Hampton’s policy appears to be a great solution. Pierson can just copy it.”

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