LEWISTON — Citing concern for learning and student well-being, Lewiston schools will soon consider restricting cellphone use during the school day.

“The one thing that is consistent we hear from administrators, at least our very young all the way through eighth grade, is that cellphone use and social media is the No. 1 distraction,” Superintendent Jake Langlais said. “It is the number one problem-causing agent with kids during the school day (and) kids outside of the school day.”

Every administrator Langlais talked to, particularly at the elementary and middle school level, was in favor of greater restrictions, Langlais said.

The policy may also limit when and where students can take photos and videos in school.

School Committee members were largely in favor of stricter cellphone restrictions, but had numerous questions about specific details, including how the policy would be enforced, who would give permission for photos and videos, and how it would relate to classroom teachers.

On Monday, Langlais presented the School Committee with a series of points outlining ideas for the new policy. These ideas, modeled after a recent ban at Westbrook Middle School, suggest that cellphones be prohibited during all class time and student activities, allowing high school students to use their phones only between classes.

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Students at the middle and elementary schools would not be allowed to use their phone at all during the day, unless administrators determine it is necessary for the student’s health, safety or for educational purposes.

The policy may also forbid students from taking photos and videos in bathrooms, locker rooms and classrooms. In other locations, photos and videos may be allowed with permission.

Photographs and videos have been used to bully educators and students, Langlais said. The district has disciplined students this year for videotaping school fights, which is a new practice, he added.

“It’s hard to focus on school, especially if you’ve been targeted,” Ward 2 representative Janet Beaudoin said. “It’s hard to then go to school the next day and not worry about someone snapping a photo of you and sending it out to everyone in a bullying tone.”

The exact language of the policy proposal has yet to be written. The policy subcommittee will first consider the policy and then bring a recommendation to the School Committee. Langlais said officials will request input from the school community while considering the new policy.

There is no districtwide policy on cellphone use. Rules on phone use vary by school.

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Langlais said he would like to see a cellphone policy in place by the time classes resume in the fall.

A policy written and approved by the School Committee would create uniformity across the district and have different implications than the varied guidelines in student handbooks, he said.

Enforcement practices could range from a verbal warning to confiscation to disciplinary actions up to and including expulsion “when and where appropriate.”

“They don’t get shut off,” Jake Langlais said. “And so kids don’t get an emotional break from the bad day, it just keeps coming.”

Several School Committee members agreed that when students and parents need to get in contact with each other, they could go through the school.

“My middle schooler, if she forgets something, she calls me from the Lewiston Middle School telephone like she’s supposed to,” Beaudoin said. “I think we just need to make that the norm.”

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Senior student representative Omar Osman said he mostly agreed with the ideas put forward by Langlais, but was dubious as to whether such a policy could be enforced in the high school.

“As long as it’s being enforced in class where the teachers have a decent amount of students they can manage at the same time, and then with everything else, students being free to use it, that should be fine,” Osman said. “Students will want to use their phones anyway, and one way or another, I promise they will use it regardless.”

Several School Committee members suggested that parents also be held accountable for teaching their children appropriate phone use. At least one suggested that parents should sign a contract stating they have reviewed the new phone use policy.

Langlais said the district has been teaching parents about identifying which apps are on a student’s phone, the activity use, parent permissions, child locks and more.

“We’re trying to take those steps in small conversations, but we want to expand that,” he said. “It’s good to have a rule or policy, but I also think it’s good to have some education around it so parents have as many tools as they could have to protect their children.”

Lewiston’s discussion on cellphone use was inspired by Westbrook school district, which recently approved a ban on cellphones in the middle school. Their policy states that “cellphones and all other communication devices must be off and stored during the school day unless it is determined to be essential for the student’s health, safety, or for educational purposes as determined by the administration,” according to Langlais.

The district already bans cellphones for students in grades five and six.

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