“Just Sayin.....” An Editorial Comment

If you woke up to the echo of laughter earlier this week, it was probably coming from tens of thousands of teachers across Ontario reacting to Premier Ford’s promise to ban cellphones in Ontario classrooms this September.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in a statement issued Tuesday, March 12 that a formal announcement would be coming soon. Thompson wrote, “Ontario’s students need to be able to focus on their learning --- not their cell phones. By banning cellphone use that distracts from learning, we are helping students to focus on acquiring the foundational skills they need like reading, writing and math.”

That is certainly a statement most classroom teachers could get behind, but then the Tories guaranteed the failure of the ban by declaring:

  1. How to enforce the ban will be up to individual school boards

  2. Exemptions will be made for teachers who want to use cell phones as part of their lessons

  3. Exemptions will be made for medical reasons

  4. Exemptions will be made for students with Special Needs

School boards need a universal piece of legislation backed by the Minister and Premier that is consistent right across the province to stare down the army of angry helicopter parents who will insist that their children need their phones at all times, and “have the parents’ permission to answer the phones at any time, including class time.”

School boards will need the muscle to suspend students who persistently defy and challenge staff over this policy. There will be sit down strikes and walkouts by students right across the province this fall guaranteed as the ban tries to take place. I hated cellphones with a passion. I went to war with my students on this issue, but waved the white flag when a department member asked for a student’s phone because it was causing a distraction, and the female student promptly put it in her bra and told the teacher to “come get it.” The student was sent to the office, and returned quite smugly minutes later with no punishment. My colleague was told by the office that cellphones were not a fight they were prepared to engage in.

Smug, self-serving statements without the muscle to enforce, punish, and ultimately suspend mean nothing to today’s youth.

Family doctors and therapist across Ontario are about to be inundated with patients/students requesting medical notes to keep their cellphones at all times on their person as part of their coping strategies for anxiety. Don’t laugh. Eight-seven percent of high school students have cellphones, and one in five or one in six is currently diagnosed with anxiety/depression. Teachers will tell you that the “daily drama” that children are exposed to through their phones is a contributor to their issues, not some kind of digital panacea. Teachers will attempt to enforce the law once, be confronted by a blizzard of medical notes which their employer will not challenge, and by Thanksgiving 2019 this piece of legislation will be in smoking ruins.

Education ministry officials said that 97 percent of respondents to their surveys wanted some kind of cellphone ban. As one insider shared, “It was the closest thing we got in our consultation to unanimity.”

The PC Party promised the ban during their election campaign, people who attended the consultations overwhelmingly supported it, and teachers await the muscle to enforce it and protect them from the thousands of parents who didn’t attend the consultations and desperately need to be in contact with their children 24/7.

Shame on you ,Premier Ford and shame on you, Minister Thompson for guaranteeing the failure of this policy before it is even implemented. School boards and teachers will not be your “fall guys” on this issue.