Opinion: Amidst school shootings, phone ban not the answer

Libby Eggert, Staffer

Oct. 28, 2019, an OPRF committee working on measures to curb cell phone usage sent out a survey asking students about their everyday technology use. Although the intentions of the survey were never communicated, the questions are very incriminating and could be used to support a proposal to ban cell phones outright.

The survey only asked questions about the negative effects of phones in everyday life. As a result, they won’t have any data on the positive effects when they propose a resolution to the administration: whatever they land on, the committee must remember that outright prohibition is not the solution.

In the three years I have attended OPRF, there have been 263 school shootings nationwide, according to the Center for Homeland Security. In 2018, the number of school shootings from 2017 more than doubled from 54 to 116.

In those two years, every day felt like there was another school shooting. The scary part is the realization they are everywhere. In my gym class the day after Parkland, we sat in a circle and mourned together. No one wanted to say it, but we all were thinking the same thing: there’s no end in sight.

Of course, gun violence didn’t start in 2017. The first school shooting I remember was Sandy Hook, when I was in third grade. My teacher made the heartbreaking decision to tell us, and I’m glad she did. Since that day, school shootings have increased by 700 percent in America. We need to talk about it.

The fear of a school shooting has lived inside me since third grade and is perpetuated with every victim gun violence claims.

My parents are teachers, and my two younger brothers are in school in Oak Park. That’s five different schools I spend my days worrying about. An easy way to reduce stress is by carrying my phone with me. If something happened to any of us, we could say our goodbyes. A funny text from my brother during lunch reminds me he is safe, reduces the all-consuming stress for me.

My experience with my phone is not universal, but ask any student about a positive way they use their phone. From texting a friend to help them find a social worker to making plans with parents, many students need their phone. By taking away phones, you’re taking away connections to the outside world, consequently suffocating students inside the confines of classrooms.

Distractions are a valid concern, presumably the main reason the committee was formed. But the prohibition of any item does not depreciate usage. Students will find new loopholes and ways to access their phones.

Many teachers use other systems such as “phone homes,” or asking students to keep phones in backpacks. These systems are more effective than outright banning because students have the promise of access when they are finished with their work.

Even better, by allowing students to have limited access to phones during class, they have to take control of their education. When students are at home or in the workforce, they will have access to their phones. By imitating this in a classroom, a student on their phone (as long as it’s not distracting anyone else) will quickly realize they are only harming themselves. If they learn this lesson on their own, students will carry this lesson outside OPRF. It’s an exciting opportunity to let students control their own education rather than micromanaging it when OPRF administration efforts could be better spent on other initiatives (mental health support, resources for LGBT students, hiring more diverse teachers).

We are at a point in history where communication is more accessible and more important than ever. This time will also be remembered by the seemingly endless presence of gun violence in which every text could be someone’s last.

Aside from the benefit of teaching students self-control, access to phones in classrooms (when not a distraction) are necessary in the age of school shootings, when a 911 call on a student phone could mean the difference between life and death. And if it comes down the latter, if we have forfeited the right to safe schools, we deserve the right to say goodbye.