A good idea can quickly become a bad idea if it isn’t properly vetted and implemented.
This is especially true when dealing with a controversial change that begs for stakeholder buy-in and clear communication with the people affected.
And that brings us to Bullard High School principal Armen Torigian, who has banned students from using cellphones on campus during learning hours.
His proposal has merit. There is ample evidence that excessive cellphone use at school is a barrier to learning. Moreover, allowing instant access to social media while on campus leads to cyberbullying and contributes to anxiety, depression, and suicide in teenagers.
These harmful effects are why Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law authorizing school districts in 2020 to adopt policies limiting — or prohibiting — student use of smartphones on school grounds during school hours.
Uvalde Is on the Minds of Many Parents
However, as the uproar generated by Torigian’s edict proves, no principal or district should take a consequential step like this without first talking with students, parents, and teachers, and also presenting the ban to the district’s board of trustees for approval. These discussions are doubly important with the Uvalde school mass shooting tragedy fresh on families’ minds.
In addition, Torigian’s cellphone ban at Tenaya Middle School, where he was the principal before coming to Bullard, isn’t sufficient justification for boldly rushing ahead when students return from summer break. There are big differences between middle and high school students.
While we are strong believers in educational innovation and using pilot programs to test policy changes, Bullard’s phone ban is too big of a change to simply try and see how things shake out — as some people are suggesting.
Manuel Bonilla, president of the Fresno Teachers Association, hit the bull’s-eye when he said: “However one might feel about the policy, any policy change that doesn’t include the authentic input from stakeholders is disingenuous and unfortunately this seems to be common practice in Fresno Unified.”
State Law Requires Specific Exemptions
Bullard students will be allowed to bring phones when they return for classes next week on Monday. Three days later, on Thursday, Aug. 18, there will be a community meeting at Bullard on the principal’s ban.
For the record, when Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) wrote the bill, AB 272, that became law two years ago, he wisely included specific exemptions to phone bans. They are:
- in an emergency;
- when a teacher or administrator grants permission for academic or other approved purposes;
- when necessary for the health and well-being of a student;
- or when required by a student with special needs.
While pushing his bill through the Legislature, Muratsuchi also introduced research indicating that test scores improved significantly at schools with phone bans. Even better, the most disadvantaged and underachieving pupils made the biggest gains.
Hopefully, student and family fears about banning phones can be allayed at the community meeting. Undoubtedly, some of the participants will raise legitimate questions that need answers.
Promoting better learning while keeping students safe should be the goal of everyone who attends. Fresno Unified has too many challenges to indulge people with political and personnel agendas. Let’s talk this through and proceed from there.
— Written by Bill McEwen
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