In anticipation of a time when cellphone service will be available on Vinalhaven, the island’s high school students recently recommended that the SAD 8 Board of Education ban cellular devices from classrooms. This issue may come up sooner rather than later, as Tower Specialist Inc. has built a tower on Vinalhaven and is currently seeking a cellphone service carrier for the area. Vinalhaven islanders Joy and Billy Mills applied for, and were granted a permit for a cell tower in 2001. Contractor Paul Strout of Tower Specialist, Inc. did not act on the permit, as no service carrier had been procured. However, as the permit was due to expire, Strout built the tower this spring. According to Town Manager Marjorie Stratton, US Cellular has asked for site information, but so far, no agreement has been reached.

School Leader Robb Warren presented a statement concerning cellphone use in classrooms from the Student Leadership Team at the school board’s May meeting.

A few months ago, Warren noticed that revisiting the policy on electronic devices in the school was on the board’s agenda. “As I am leader of the Student Leadership Team and meet with them every two weeks, I thought it would be a good idea to gauge their thoughts on the issue,” he said. “I asked the students what they thought of the idea and no one wanted them in the classrooms. They said that if cellphones were to be allowed in the school, they should be made to leave them in their lockers.”

The Student Leadership Team, comprised of eight students representing the 58-student high school, voted unanimously that cellphones should not be allowed in classrooms. Later, Warren conducted an informal poll corroborating the team’s actions. The results showed 76 percent of high-school students asked were in favor of keeping cellphones in lockers. While the SLT does not represent Vinalhaven Middle School, Warren polled those students as well and found that 70 percent of those asked favored keeping cellphones in lockers.

The Student Leadership Team revised the current school board policy to reflect their feelings. According to their statement:

“Students are prohibited from using privately owned electronic devices, including, but not limited to cellular phones, Blackberries, handheld computers, MP3 players, and electronic games during classes and school activities. During classes and school activities all such devices must be turned off. The only exception to this rule is when a teacher specifically authorizes students to use such personal devices for a specific purpose.

“Students may have these devices in their possession on field trips and extracurricular activities except for during scheduled events/activities or when otherwise requested. If cell phones must be allowed in school, they are to stay in lockers during class time.”         

This differs from the policies at both Oceanside High School in Rockland and Camden Hills Regional High School, where students are allowed to have cellphones in their possession at all times, though they may not use the phones during classes.

According to sophomore Student Leadership Team member Bethany Candage, there was much discussion in the group regarding particular times cellphones should and should not be allowed in school, but the group was in complete agreement when it came to the issue of allowing cellphones in classrooms. “I feel that students should be allowed phones during school times like before school and after school,” she said, “but during class times they should be kept in lockers so they don’t detract from our education.”

Julie Peterson, outgoing president of the school board, pointed out that the board had not sought student input at this point in their policy revision process, but she was not surprised at the students’ response. She emphasized that the policy is “something we’re still working on. It’s something we’ll have to keep looking at.”

To people living on the mainland, where cellphone service is usually readily available, the students’ decision may seem unusual. However, it’s different on Vinalhaven, where cellphone service has so far been spotty, at best. Vinalhaven students have never had cellphones in school or as a part of their daily lives, so they won’t miss them during the school day. Junior Student Leadership Team member Jack Reidy recognizes this. “It’s just because no one’s ever had them out here really, so no one really cares as much,” he said. q