Students check out their cellphones during a passing period at Riverside-Brookfield High School on Aug. 15. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

Tearing a teenager away from a cellphone can be a nearly impossible task. But administrators and teachers are trying to do that, at least during classroom instruction, this year at Riverside-Brookfield High School.

The school has debuted a new color-coded system in classrooms as they crack down on cellphone use during class.

The default position is red, meaning cellphones are not to be used during instruction, although students can listen to music or browse through social media on their smartphones during passing periods and at lunch.

“I want to meet them in the middle,” said Principal Hector Freytas at a recent school board meeting outlining the new policy. “But before they walk into a classroom, the phone needs to be off and away,” 

Some teachers will even have students deposit their phones in a “cellphone holder” as they enter a classroom, so students are not tempted to look at their phones during class. Throughout the school, students are not to be wearing earbuds as they enter a classroom and cellphones are to be turned off and out of sight unless the teacher has indicated otherwise.

Outside each classroom there is a laminated sign with red, yellow and green areas. Teachers can set the indicator to whatever level of cellphone use they want to allow. When the arrow is pointing toward red, the cell phone is not to be used in class and should not be visible. 

Yellow means a cellphone can be used for a portion of the class, usually for an instruction-related activity. Green means that cell phones can be used during the class period, but students are supposed to only access school-appropriate content and not disrupt the classroom.

“I’m really proud that we’re going to have a universal system that we’re all going to be following, and I believe it meets students’ needs,” Freytas said. “There’s some time to use [phones] built in, but there’s also time to respect the educational space, because one of the big challenges that all educators and administrators face today is the distractions from cellphones.”

While students are allowed to use their cellphones in hallways, the cafeteria and library, they are not allowed to use their cellphones in bathrooms, locker rooms and the health office.

Students who violate the rules will first be given a classroom warning. Continued noncompliance will result in a classroom referral and a detention or an email/call to a parent. If infractions continue it will result in a referral to the dean’s office. Further noncompliance can result in a code of conduct violation and/or activity restriction.

Students are not allowed to call their parents on their cellphones to obtain permission for early release. All such calls must be made from a school office.

At Lyons Township High School, the use of cell phones and other electronic devices for educational purposes is left the discretion of classroom teachers.

Educators know that smartphones can be addicting and have no problem with students using them in the hallways during passing periods or during lunch, but they do not want students to be distracted by the phones during class.

“The tool is not bad, it’s the purpose of it, the use of it,” Freytas said.