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At the urging of principals and teachers in the Waukesha School District, cellphone use for students will now be restricted.

The Waukesha School Board approved a revision in its guidelines on technology use last week.

Specifically, it says cellphones will not be allowed in classrooms or study halls, except when specifically requested by teachers to bring them to class. Cellphones, as a result, must remain in lockers or backpacks, according to the new policy.

Superintendent Todd Gray said the new policy shouldn't be a huge change for some schools.

"This has actually been the expected operating policy for a few years now, but it was never formalized in policy," Gray said.

Rethinking earlier edict

But Gray said the original no-cellphone policy was changed about five years ago to allow students to bring in smartphones — before the district began implementing iPads for instructional use.

Joe Koch, assistant superintendent of student services, said while the idea was well-intentioned, "issues arose by having students with free access to their cellphones in the classrooms."

Gray said cellphone use in the classroom turned out to be more of a distraction for many teachers.

"It did not work as expected," Gray said. "I've probably had hundreds of teachers say 'Please change this, it's not working well.'"

The district began seeking guidance from principals a couple of years ago to get their input on cellphone use in schools.

Gray and Koch said principals were in favor of the changes.

Better control

Koch said the new language will "help teachers and administrators control what's going on in the classrooms. The policy tries to accept what our reality is."

He added that the guideline is primarily to enforce "what goes on in the controlled environments."

Random use of phones in hallways, study halls is prohibited in district schools, Koch said.

"This captures practice because our principals have been working to enforce this for a while," he said. "This supports their efforts."

At a December committee meeting, school board member Ellen Langill indicated she would have liked a stricter policy. She said she would have preferred the policy force students to keep cellphones in their locker. Langill also noted how the policy doesn't mandate that phones be turned off in their backpack.

"We're still a little looser than I wish we were," Langill said at the meeting.

How to enforce

Some questioned at the committee and school board levels on how teachers and principals will enforce the new policy.

Koch said it will be up to the individual teachers and principals to determine how they will discipline the students.

Langill noted that teachers must continue to be "cellphone policemen."

Koch said while that's true, recent past practice has been that "no cellphones are to be out. The policy is to catch the practice."

Langill, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said she has strict rules in her classroom.

"We're strict — otherwise it's bedlam," Langill said.

She said if the phone rings during her class, she stops the class and has the student bring her the phone, and if she catches students text messaging she also stops the class.

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