Cellphone ban in schools

Teachers also under microscope in behavior reforms

Use of cellphones will be completely banned in public schools from September in a bid to stamp out cyber bullying.

Education Minister Tara Rivers made the announcement as she revealed some of the government’s initiatives to deal with behavior and bullying issues in schools.

It is understood that many schools already ban cellphones. Minister Rivers said this would be the policy island-wide from September.

Funding has also been set aside for a new “behavior support manager” to coordinate resources across the school system to deal with students causing problems in classrooms.

Ms. Rivers, speaking during the Legislative Assembly budget debate on Monday, said the clampdown on bullying and bad behavior would also apply to teaching staff with a new complaints policy to be introduced.

She said schools would not tolerate assaults on teachers and would bring in the police when necessary – something that occurred when a teacher was punched to the ground by a 15-year-old student in a classroom assault in March.

But she added that bullying from “students or teachers” could not be tolerated, saying she often received complaints from parents and students.

“It is not acceptable to say that our children are dumb, that they can’t learn, or ‘I’m just here for a paycheck whether they advance or not’, and so a new anti-bullying policy and a new complaints policy will be introduced in the new school year.

“I beseech those in charge and those responsible for carrying out any disciplinary procedures within the civil service to be vigilant and to act accordingly when instances of such behavior are observed or reported.”

Ms. Rivers reiterated earlier statements from the ministry that it is introducing new measures to deal with bad behavior in schools. She said survey results suggest that parents, students and teachers are broadly happy with the system of rewards and sanctions but consistency of enforcement is a key issue.

She said the new behavior support manager would be charged with improving that, adding a “layer of accountability” that has been missing in the past.

“With these systems in place, it is my expectation that schools will be better positioned to manage student behavior and implement disciplinary measures,” she said.

Teacher training and tweaks to the home-school agreement, which sets out expectations and commitments for students in the system, will also be part of the solution.

Ms. Rivers said a survey of students shows that teachers who did not implement sanctions when students stepped out of line were more likely to face disruption in the classroom. “This is the kind of empirical data we are trying to get in formulating the process going forward with respect to dealing with the issues our children are facing,” she added.

She said a “strong message” would be delivered to parents, teachers and students outlining expectations before the next academic year.

She added that a lot of progress is being made in the schools and suggested that critics who focus only on the negative side of things are damaging the morale of students and deterring good teachers from staying in Cayman.

“Challenging the system is important, but in doing so, always have a solution focused approach, not just criticism because it does nobody any good,” she said.