Distractions Are Gone Along With Our Phones
BY MATTHEW BURNHAM/School Administrator, November 2022

 Matthew Burnham
Several years ago, Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito, Calif., embarked on a mission to limit cellphone distractions on campus for our 665 7th and 8th graders. We had experimented the prior year with allowing students to use their phones at lunch and during the passing period. By January, we concluded that was not particularly effective.

Cellphone use was keeping students from interacting authentically with one another. This was quite evident during our lunch hour as we would observe students sitting silently and eating side by side without looking up or speaking to anyone. We also saw an uptick in bullying related to social media interactions.

In fall 2016, we decided a full no-cellphone policy was needed. Our plan is simple. If we see a phone in student possession, we remove it. Students can pick up the phone from the main office for the first two violations. After the next infraction, parents must pick up their student’s cellphone from the office. We record the number of times that cellphones are collected and retrieved to ensure we are fairly instituting the policy.

Safety Accommodation

For the most part, parents have been highly supportive of our policy. From time to time, I’ve called a parent about picking up a cellphone on a Friday afternoon and had parents tell me to keep it over the weekend. One parent even admitted, “I might even get a chance to speak to my child this weekend!”

The few parents who have raised issues about the policy have done so because of safety concerns. Some of our parents work in the evening and at night and ask students to call them on their way home. For these families, we allow students to turn the cellphone into the main office when they arrive at school and then pick it up at the end of the school day.

For quite some time, Korematsu was one of the only schools in West Contra Costa Unified School District to have a no-phones policy. Last year during a meeting of the district’s principals, we began discussing the incidents and issues stemming from student cellphone use on campus. I shared that Korematsu was not experiencing issues and further explained our policy. The concern from other principals was the expected parent reaction to being required to pick up their children’s phones at the end of the day. I explained that communicating the policy clearly was the key to alleviating these concerns. Now most middle schools in our district follow the no-phones policy.

Shared Objective

Korematsu families want the same thing we want as educators: a safe and welcoming school focused on student learning. By eliminating the distractions of cellphones, we are doing our best to keep the focus on student learning.

MATT BURNHAM is principal of Fred T. Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito, Calif.