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More Maine schools move to ban cellphones for the entire school day

Westbrook and South Portland are the newest districts following Lewiston in fully banning cellphone use for students grades 5-8.

MAINE, Maine — South Portland and Westbrook middle schools have effectively banned cellphones for all students. The policy applies to students for the entirety of the school day, including recess and class breaks.

In South Portland, students are required to keep their cellphones turned off and in their lockers. The policy says that if a student removes their cellphone from the locker, they will be required to bring it to the main office where it will be kept in a locked closet for the duration of the school day. 

South Portland officials said smartwatches that connect to students’ cellphones should not be worn to school or should be kept in lockers as well. 

School officials believe the policy will help students academically, socially, and emotionally. 

"We believe that 'away for the day' cell phone policies help students focus on their learning. Research compiled by the makers of the film Screenagers shows that students who cannot access their phones during the school day are more engaged with their school work and with their teachers and classmates. Studies also suggest that prohibiting students’ access to cell phones and social media during the school day can benefit their mental health," South Portland school officials wrote in a letter to parents.

Dr. Peter Lancia is the superintendent of schools in Westbrook. He said all middle school students cannot have cellphones during the day.

Parents and guardians in Westbrook and South Portland can call the main office and front office staff will deliver a message. Students can also ask teachers for permission to use the phone in the main office to call home during the school day, too.  

Lewiston was the first school district to implement the rule,  banning cellphone use for pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. It was implemented last year.

"The most recent feedback from some middle school students that are on a city leadership youth group have said they wish there were no cellphones allowed at the high school, so this is a conversation that may come back up," Lewiston Superintendent Jake Langlais said. "But they talked about how there was no distraction, the day-long messaging ... and bullying, things like that just stop because everyone's phone was put away. So I think it was an interesting piece for 7th-8th grade students to say it was a game changer for them, to have that cellphone separation if you will."

As for why the rule dissipates at the high school level, this is what officials had to say:

"We have found that by the time students are in high school, they have developed responsibilities and are better able to use cellphones more appropriately," Lancia said.

"We are trying to strike a balance between preparing kids for the rest of the world and the reality of kids having phones ... Being able to navigate them safely with digital citizenship is just something we want to make sure kids are prepared to do," Langlais said. "So I think it's very difficult to pull the devices out of kids hands especially when they hit the sophomore, junior, senior year in school."

NEWS CENTER Maine did not hear back from South Portland school officials on this specific rule being implemented at the high school level.

South Portland also has a new rule where elementary and middle school students must be accompanied by an adult if they go see a high school football game.

"Events surrounding some of our home contests in the past have generated some concern regarding the supervision and the safety of our elementary and middle school students who have attended games by themselves without responsible adult supervision. We know that in these open, unstructured settings, younger students do not always make responsible decisions. Watching young spectators in a large crowd becomes difficult when they lose interest in the game, congregate in large groups, drift away from the playing field, pass footballs in poorly lit areas, or even choose to leave the grounds," South Portland school officials noted in a memo to parents. "To provide a safe environment for all of our student spectators, elementary and middle school students attending South Portland High School athletic contests must be accompanied by and under the direct supervision of a parent, guardian or responsible adult chaperone at all times during contests. Game staff will be monitoring entry points to our facilities to ensure young children do not attend games unsupervised. Students who are unsupervised will be asked to call home and for parents to come pick them up."

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