FREEPORT – Freeport High School started the school year this week with a crackdown on student use of cellphones, requiring that the digital devices be turned off throughout the school day.

School administrators stiffened an existing policy that allowed students to use their phones during lunch. Students and parents are giving the change mixed reviews and questioning whether it will encourage teenagers to use their phones on the sly between classes and during bathroom breaks.

The school adopted the tougher policy because teachers found that allowing any cellphone use in school made it difficult to limit calling and texting in classes and elsewhere, said Principal Bob Strong.

“We’re trying to eliminate distractions,” Strong said Thursday. “Teachers have been concerned about a lack of focus because of interruptions. We understand this is a global digital era, but we want to make sure academics is the focus of what we do here.”

Freeport High is taking a stricter stand than many high schools, where policies on cellphone use and their enforcement vary widely.

The school also wants to limit opportunities for bullying with cellphones, which occurred a few times last year, Strong said. The school hasn’t had an incident of cheating with a cellphone, Strong said, but his staff wants to discourage that as well.

Strong introduced the policy Tuesday, the first day of school, during an assembly with the freshman class. The school sent an email notice to parents Wednesday. Strong has since met with sophomores and juniors, and will meet with seniors today.

Under the new policy, students may not use cellphones from the first bell at 7:50 a.m. until the dismissal bell at 2:20 p.m. They may carry their phones, but they must be turned off, without vibration.

If parents must contact students, they can leave messages with the secretaries in the principal’s office, Strong said. If students must contact parents, they can use the phone in the principal’s office.

“They have ample access to other means of communication,” said Jon Amory, a technology teacher. “They all have laptops. They can still send emails. Students went to school for years without cellphones, so I have no problem with the stricter policy.”

Assistant Principal Chris L’Abbe developed the new policy in consultation with teachers. So far, the reaction of students and parents has been subdued.

“It hasn’t been a big issue,” L’Abbe said after Thursday’s assembly with juniors. “I think some students are relieved not to have to monitor their phones all the time.”

Strong said one or two parents have called to voice concerns about the stricter policy. One said the school should teach students to use technology responsibly. Strong said the school district hosted a community meeting on responsible technology use Wednesday night.

“I understand the new policy from an educational standpoint,” said Shannon Fournier, the mother of Sydney Terison, a sophomore. “But I still want to be able to get a hold of her whenever I want to. I like being able to communicate with her without the office knowing all of our family business.”

At least two students have been caught using their cellphones in school since the policy took effect, Strong said. Their phones were taken away and returned to them at the end of the school day.

For a second violation, the phone will be taken away and returned after a parent is notified. For a third offense, the phone will be taken away and a parent will be called to retrieve it.

“I hate it,” senior Salena DeWitt said of the stricter policy. “We at least need to be able to make calls at lunch. I call my mom about my plans after school. Or I call work. Stuff like that.”

Maureen DeWitt, Salena’s mother, said she doesn’t have a problem with the new policy. “I would call the office in an emergency, as I did when she was in elementary and middle school,” she said.

If students can’t use their phones at lunch, many will sneak a call or a text when teachers aren’t looking or aren’t around, said DeWitt and other students.

“Most of us are respecting it,” said freshman Abby Gray. “But I saw one girl using her phone under her desk in class today. The teachers have been saying that the rule is new and they have to get used to it, too.”

Gray said she knows that if she has an emergency, she can go to the office and make a call. “But if everybody does that, it could be a problem, because the office is small and gets crowded quickly,” she said.

Some teachers have said that parents are the primary culprits in calling or texting students during school, said freshman Meredith Saunders. She agrees with them. She often calls or texts her parents throughout the day, and would like to be able to let them know her after-school plans before the final bell rings.

Still, she’s following the stricter policy and keeping her phone in her book bag, she said. She had a headache when she went to school Thursday, so later her father sent her a concerned text asking, “How’s your head?”

“I didn’t get it until after school,” Saunders said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com