Either students on Martha's Vineyard are a very respectful bunch, or cell phone reception on-Island is too spotty to be worth sneaking in a call during class. Either way, while many Island kids' might own cell phones, per protocol they dutifully turn them off during the school day, if they even bring them in their backpacks at all.
"It hasn't been a problem," said Robert Moore, head of the charter school. "We have rules. We ask everyone - kids and teachers - to turn their cell phones off." Mr. Moore said the school handbook does not actually cite cell phones, but that the unwritten rule is out there, and "we assume kids respect it," he said.
Speaking as a principal, interim superintendent Ed Jerome said that at the Edgartown School students are permitted to have cell phones with them. They just can't misuse them, and should have them turned off. "In today's society, technology is a part of everyone's life. Things are different than they were 20 years ago," he said. "Misuse is the key. As long as the kids treat the rules with respect... We haven't had any issues."
Maureen DeLoach, principal of the Tisbury School, agreed that cell phone usage among students has not been a problem. "I'm not even finding anything in our handbook about it, so that tells you it's not much of a problem," she said. "Oh wait, there it is," she said, and read from a list of gadgets "not to be brought to school grounds."
Rules against the use of cell phones are similar in schools on the mainland. Falmouth High School prohibits students from using cell phones during school hours. Those found in violation have their phones confiscated for the day and receive a detention. Brookline High's handbook goes as far as to emphasize cell phones as antithetical to its educational philosophy: "They are an unnecessary distraction and detract from a school culture that is different from popular culture and, grounded in human interaction, and the establishment of strong human relationships. During the school day (7:45-2:35) they cannot be seen and their use is prohibited anywhere on the campus of Brookline High School."
At Tisbury School, according to Ms. DeLoach, if a student does bring a phone to school, they are supposed to turn it into their teacher, who then hands it back at the end of the day. "We don't conduct searches or anything like that, though. Realistically, if a student brings a cell phone in her book bag, and turns it off, we don't even know it's there," she admitted. She also said that they make exceptions with parents in certain circumstances, such as medical-related situations.
"I can understand why parents would want their children to have cell phones. So they can know their kids' whereabouts after school," said Mr. Moore. "But parents know their kids are in school every day from 8am to 3pm. On a good day," he joked.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to the ability of parents to communicate with their kids, if and when necessary. "Communication is what counts," said Ms. DeLoach, who said that each classroom is equipped with its own landline, to which the parents have the phone number. "So that might cut down on the cell phone usage," she speculated.
Teachers, too, say they have not encountered much competition in the classroom from cell phones - not even from text messaging, which could very well eliminate the age-old practice of note-passing from desk to desk. According to West Tisbury science teacher Joel Weintraub, his students are too focused to bother with any cell phone business. "Of course my lessons are so interesting and stimulating what kid would want to talk, or text, on a cell phone when they can have a great time in science?" he asked. Plus, his own phone doesn't work at his up-Island school, he admitted.
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule.
Said one high school senior on the ferry Sunday evening, "We're not allowed to use our cell phones during school. But sometimes you can sneak it. Like in the bathroom, or in a corner. If you get a teacher who is a Nazi about it, she might take it away for the day."
But who would you call anyway? Aren't all of your friends in school? asked this Times reporter. "Well, yeah," she said.