The Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education will vote on an amended personal technology policy, which includes cell phones and other personal devices like Apple Watches, in August. The proposed policy differs from the current policy in that it would allow teachers and students to create individual norms for personal technology use in each high school classroom.

The debate about phones in schools is nation-wide. Some say schools should fully ban phones in class, which a new law in Florida aims to do with an exception for class activities, while others see a potential in phones and personal technology to help students.

Teachers and staff say that phones are a distraction from lessons and school work during class time, and during passing time or other non-instructional time they worry that students are using their phones instead of socializing in person. Much of teenagers’ phone usage involves social media like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, which educators and parents worry impacts students’ mental health.

The U.S. Surgeon General released an advisory in May warning that social media is dangerous for young people’s mental health.

“While social media may have benefits for some children and adolescents, there are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents,” the advisory reads.

Both the current and proposed MPS district policies acknowledge the importance of technology in students’ futures in college and the workplace and that appropriate use of technology can help students with their education. 

Southwest technology teacher Peter Carlson said that in his classroom, which revolves around technology, students sometimes have the option to use their personal phones or their Chromebooks for activities. When given the option, most or all of the students choose their phones. 

“They often prefer to use their phones because it’s what they’re comfortable with,” Carlson said. “Kids get smart with it. They’ll watch tutorials on their phone and then do the work on their desktop computer.”

Carlson said he got some equipment to work with the students’ phones, like an adaptor to connect microphones directly into students’ phones for the audio unit. 

Despite the benefits, Carlson also saw students distracted by their phones in class, especially coming out of the virtual learning era of the pandemic. He slowly implemented and enforced norms in the classroom to keep students on track.

“We put kids in COVID saying ‘you’re going to use all this technology,’” he said. “We can’t go back to ‘now there’s no technology allowed.” 

The current district policy allows personal technology use during class time when the “teacher permits the use for educational purposes,” whereas the new policy permits usage “as established by classroom norms set forth by the students and the teacher.”

Carlson said that he values the consistency that a district policy provides across classrooms. Teachers currently have different classroom norms for personal devices, and he said that it’s hard for students to abide by different policies in different classrooms.

“Uniformity is good because you’re taking away confusion from students and you’re setting a standard of what is considered normal and helpful,” Carlson said. “At the same time, speaking primarily from a high school standpoint, there needs to be some sort of leeway because we’re in a technology society.”

Carlson pointed out that his class uses technology the entire period, so it would be unreasonable for him to expect students not to use their phones, especially when they might make a better project on their phone because they’re more familiar with how it works. 

“As a teacher, my role is to have that balance of saying ‘use your phone, but use it in a way that’s going to benefit you for this class,’” he said.