TORONTO - Ontario's largest teachers' union wants cellphones checked at the classroom door unless teachers say otherwise.
The recommendation to restrict the technology is all about keeping distractions out of the classroom, not being heavy-handed with kids, says the Ontario Elementary Teachers' Federation, which represents 76,000 public elementary teachers.
"It doesn't represent a ban. That would up to the schools and school boards to decide," said Craig Smith, president of the union's London-area wing. "The primary motivation was to really eliminate or minimize distractions in the classroom."
Many schools welcome the use of hand-held gadgets for instructional purposes.
For parents, it's also a handy way to keep tabs on kids and put a personal safety tool in their hands.
But the union's move has thrust under the spotlight the problem of trying to teach kids who may be distracted.
In the school system, the rules vary from board to board, but kids generally aren't allowed to use cellphones in class without teacher or school permission.
"Our policy and procedure essentially falls in line with that, in that students aren't to be using them in the classroom unless a specific teacher is giving them permission," said Marion Moynihan, a superintendent at the Thames Valley District School Board, the region's largest school system.
Keeping cellphones out isn't an option, most observers agree. They're just too pervasive.
"Banning them completely would be an unreasonable expectation, given the size and nature of the technology," said Steve Howe, spokesman for the Avon Maitland District School Board.
A London university professor says the teachers may be onto something.
"We're fostering this obsessive culture of vanity and it's always done under the name of safety," said Tim Blackmore, a media studies professor at Western University. "But in reality, I would guess there's more harm done than good.”
Blackmore said cellphones can destroy a lecture.
"I can handle it in a large lecture hall if a cellphone goes off. I can handle one episode," he said.
"When two go off, I can get through that. But the time I get to the third, I'm having a problem staying focused and I will nearly lose the class at that point."
Compounding the issue, many schools are now wired for free Wi-Fi.
"Social media such as Facebook, Snapchat and basic texting are distracting because they engender always-on practices where students feel compelled to engage in communication," said Isabel Pedersen, the Canada research chair in digital life, media and culture.