Students at Cony High School in Augusta work on assignments recently in the library, where cellphones have been banned to curb distractions and boost engagement. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Two school districts in central Maine have banned the use of cellphones in classrooms this year to help prevent students from getting distracted.

Officials at Maranacook High School in Readfield and Cony Middle and High School in Augusta said they have already seen improvements in student morale and participation within the first few weeks of the 2023-24 school year. 

In both districts, teachers were previously responsible for making cellphone rules for their classrooms, under policies approved by the school boards. This year, administrators in both districts said they met with teachers and decided on schoolwide changes to achieve the best results for students.

Cony High School Principal Kim Liscomb said after several meetings with teachers, the consensus was that it is becoming “increasingly difficult to keep students engaged” in the classroom and that students’ use of cellphones is “(getting) in the way of instruction.”

The goals of Cony’s cellphone restrictions are to reduce distractions, increase face-to-face interactions, reduce cyberbullying and cheating and improve mental health, administrators wrote in a letter to families in late August. 

“It has made an incredible difference, and the staff is incredibly happy,” Liscomb said at a recent school board meeting. “There is a significant increase in engagement of students in the class, raising their hands and fully engaged in the activities.” 


Experts have said it is impossible for students to absorb information while scrolling on their cellphone or watching a video. Studies have shown the human brain cannot multitask, and students are likely to be much more successful if far from their cellphone during instruction time.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, cellphone bans were in place in 2020 at 76% of schools across the country, but it is unclear if that figure has since shifted.

Smartphones provided an important way for students to connect when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools into remote learning. The new cellphone policy at Cony High School will likely take some getting used to, according to junior Maya Gould.

“I have heard mixed feedback about the policy,” said Gould, who is a student representative to the Augusta Board of Education. “It has been an adjustment to upperclassmen, where it’s a very different experience, but I wouldn’t say it’s negative. Overall, it’s a positive policy.” 

At Maranacook High School, Principal Michele LaForge said the policy change is intended to improve hallway safety and increase student engagement. This year, more high school students — about 60% — are participating in extracurriculars, which LaForge said could be a result of the new cellphone rules.

A cellphone caddy in a classroom Friday at Cony Middle and High School in Augusta. Students can put their cellphones into the pockets if they do not have a place to store them when in class. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Previously, many students would be on their cellphones almost constantly — in classrooms, bathrooms or hallways — and over time, it created safety concerns and a lack of face-to-face interactions between students, LaForge said. 


Teachers now ask students to leave their cellphones in a bin at the front of the room before the start of class. Like at Cony, Maranacook students are raising their hands more and more engaged in what is being taught, according to LaForge.

“We have seen kids talking together, and the chess boards are checked out,” LaForge said. “Seven kids even left their phones behind because they didn’t notice they didn’t have it on them.” 

While students at Cony and Maranacook high schools can no longer use cellphones inside classrooms or other academic spaces, such as study hall, they are allowed to use them during lunch and before and after school.

The rules set by the administrations build on nearly identical cellphone policies set by the districts’ school boards.

Most school boards in central Maine use the same policy drafted by the Maine School Management Association and leave it to teachers to decide if and how to manage students’ use of cellphones. 

The repercussions for students who use cellphones outside of the approved times are similar. Depending on the number of times a student is told to put away his or her cellphone, the phone can be taken away; the student can receive a detention; administrators can call parents; or the student might be told to leave his or her cellphone at home for an extended period of time.


In serious instances, the administration could involve law enforcement.

At a recent Augusta Board of Education meeting, a few board members asked if students are allowed to use their cellphones if they do not have enough work.

“Honestly, we need to continue reading,” Liscomb said. “It’s so critical to student success, and I don’t just mean fiction, but nonfiction, magazines. It will improve their writing in all areas.” 

On social media, reactions from parents have been mostly positive.

Liscomb and LaForge said they know some students are not pleased with the policy changes. The administrators said they plan to check in periodically with students about the cellphone rules.

Comments are no longer available on this story