By Jess Baker
Schools across the state are back in session after the holiday break and, for Warwick State High School students, that means some new changes.
As of 2021, Warwick State High School (WSHS) is a phone-free zone.
Mobile phones, portable music players, smart watches and AirPods are to be off and not visible in the school grounds between 8.45am and 3.10pm, unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.
Where students need to bring a phone to school, they will now be expected to store it in a designated phone locker at the Student Resource Office and must supply their own lock and key.
Students with acute medical needs who need to keep a phone on their person must provide medical documentation and have the arrangement approved by the Principal or delegate.
These rules come under the school’s new ‘Phone-Free Time’ policy designed to maximise learning time, reduce distractions, keep students safe, and teach them to self-regulate their phone use.
WSHS staff, Student Council representatives, and the P & C committee considered a number of aspects during their analysis of the policy, including; wellbeing concerns due to social media and mental health impacts, lack of social interaction at break times due to overreliance on technology, access to inappropriate materials, access to other technology in classrooms, the safety of students travelling to and from school, and acknowledgement that a phone is a communication tool for students with part time jobs.
Ultimately, the school position is that mobile phones should not be brought into the school unless absolutely necessary.
The new policy states that if a student is found to have a mobile phone either switched on or not stored in a locker during phone-free hours, they will be instructed to take the device to the Student Resource Office for collection after school.
Other Warwick schools, such as SCOTS PGC College, enforce similar policies.
SCOTS principal Kyle Thompson said students are not permitted to have their phones during the school day unless prior approval has been granted for a specific reason or the classroom teacher has invited the use of a phone as part of the lesson.
“It is an expectation that students hand their phones into the sub-school reception or secure them in their lockers,” said Kyle.
Boarders at SCOTS must hand their phones in after prep (homework) before lights out and are given access again the following afternoon after school.
A small number of students with medical conditions are allowed to use their phones to monitor their health through specific medical apps.
“The app sends an alert when symptoms reach a point where they require medication or medical attention,” said Kyle.
Kyle said the apps allow students to collaboratively manage their health with the College nurses.
“As is the case with many other areas of student development, we strive to educate our students in the appropriate use of technology, including phones,” said Kyle.
“Rules are one thing but understanding how to ensure they are able to be applied is also important.
“As for every aspect of a young person’s development, education is key.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said decisions about the use of phones in Queensland state schools are made by principals, in consultation with their school communities.
“This approach to local decision-making is consistent with Recommendation 13 made by the Queensland Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce,” said the spokesperson.
“The recommendation states that schools should continue to have autonomy to determine student access to mobile phones and other personal devices at school, and ensure their policies on the use of mobile phones and other personal devices: are developed in consultation with the whole school community, are regularly reviewed in light of rapidly changing technology, (and) give consideration to technology-free spaces and times.”
The spokesperson said WSHS’ new phone policy has been clearly communicated to students and parents through a number of channels, and all information is available on the school’s website.