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Natick students oppose ban on music players

Posted by Tom Coakley  September 20, 2010 06:14 PM

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Students at Natick High School are protesting a new policy this year that bans iPods and other electronic devices in all academic areas of the school, including study halls and classrooms.

The policy change has prompted nearly 300 students and others to sign an online petition, and many others to support a Facebook page opposing the ban, which was supported by Natick principals and other district administrators.

The new policy allows students to use their mp3 players in the cafeteria and the school's front hallway.

"They're a legitimate study tool when you're trying to tune out the background noise of people talking and conversation flying by and just focus on the work that you're doing right now," said Sean Flaherty, the Natick High School senior who started the petition and Facebook page to protest the new policy. "I think you can be a lot more productive if you plug your headphones in and listen to music."

Interim Principal Rose Bertucci said the policy was designed to encourage students to focus on their studies and academics, rather than listening to music. Before the ban, when she saw students in study hall, they tended to be either listening to music or working, rather than doing both at the same time.

"If you give them an iPod in one hand, and give them a math book and a pencil in the other hand, a lot of kids are going to say, 'I'll do my math homework later and I'll listen to music now,'" Bertucci said.

Bertucci said she couldn't find any research suggesting that listening to music helps students study. However, there is plenty of research, she said, suggesting that multitasking is inefficient.

Natick's policy may be unusual but the school isn't the first high school in the state to ban iPods and other electronic devices. At Framingham High School, students are prohibited from using cell phones and mp3 players at any point during the school day, according the school’s online student handbook.

In Natick, the part of the policy banning cellphones from classrooms has been less controversial, Bertucci said. "You have 1,300 kids, you have 1,300 cell phones," at Natick High School, she said. "The kids seem to use them quite frequently, almost to the point where they're obsessed."

Sophomores and juniors are the most likely to oppose the policy, she said, since seniors are allowed to leave the school during free periods, rather than stay in study hall. Since using electronic devices is generally banned during in the lower schools, freshmen never got used to listening to music during school, she said.

Flaherty agreed that most students agree the cell phone ban makes sense. But he argues that a three-hour detention for listening to an iPod, more severe than if a student skipped a class, makes no sense.

"Everyone stopped," once the new policy was announced, said senior Alex Simjanoski, who also signed the petition. "No one wants to get a silly punishment like that."

Students opposed to the ban are trying to rally their peers to show up at a meeting next week of the School Committee, which must approve the policy. School Superintendent Peter Sanchioni said committee members have already discussed it twice and have been supportive of the initiative, so he doesn’t anticipate a change when they meet Sept. 27.

Sanchioni said the flap that’s brewed over Natick High’s new iPod policy is undeserved and the school is committed to technology for learning.

“We are the biggest believers in technology,” said Sanchioni, who pointed to the upcoming iPod Touch lab that’s being created at the high school to allow classes to use applications during their classes. “We’re probably one of the most advanced districts around here.”

Sanchioni said the new electronic device rules were instituted this year after principals from all of the town’s eight schools agreed on an approach. Bertucci, in her first year as interim principal, said she supports the policy but wouldn't have chosen to begin her tenure with a clash over the ban. "I have enough other things," she said.

Globe correspondent Katrina Ballard contributed to this report. Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com. Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com.

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