Beginning next month, students in Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine (DSFM) schools will no longer be allowed to use cell phones while in the classroom.

Division Superintendent Alain Laberge says they noticed during the pandemic that more and more students had cell phones. Yet, he says these phones were not being used for teaching purposes, but rather as a means of socializing and playing games. 

Laberge says that concerned staff and what happened was some teachers started to ban them from their classrooms. However, because not all teachers had made this rule, it quickly turned into a good teacher/ bad teacher scenario. 

The Superintendent explains that cell phones are simply not needed inside classrooms. He notes during the pandemic the schools brought in more and more tablets and laptops in order that students could take them home. He notes the schools still have these devices and are making them available to students, ultimately eliminating the need for cell phone use among students. 

Laberge says they approached their Parent Advisory Councils, held meetings with principals, met with staff and even led focus groups with students to pitch the idea of banning cell phones from classrooms. 

"Most of the feedback we received was we don't really need the tool anymore in our classrooms," he says.

As a result, the school division has created two separate policies. The first policy disallows cellular phones or electronic devices for students in kindergarten to grade eight. The second policy does the same thing for high school students. 

Laberge says the tricky thing is that for a lot of students in grades seven and eight, the cell phones they bring to the school are their parents. And, because the division cannot legally keep a phone at school that belongs to a parent, Laberge says for any student in kindergarten to grade eight who violates the policy, their parent will be contacted and asked to come pick up the phone. For high school students, it is also the one-strike rule as parents will be contacted to let them know that their child was using a cell phone during class, which is not allowed. 

Laberge says in some cases where a student may need their phone for health reasons, they can excuse themselves from class in order to use it. Or, if a high school student receives their work schedule via text or email, they can check their phone during a break. 

One of the concerns that has been raised is that a parent might need to reach their child in an emergency. To that, Laberge says 20 years ago there were no cell phones in class and parents would call the school office to reach their child. He notes that same thing can happen today. 

Laberge says the plan is to have this policy in place for a full school year and then determine what sort of difference it made. He notes some other divisions in the province have already reached out to him applauding his bravery in instituting a policy like this and letting him know that they are now considering the same thing. 

Laberge says almost all of the feedback he has received has been positive, thanking him for this change. 

With files from Adi Loewen