Minneapolis schools may, by the fall, codify more flexibility for students to use their cellphones during class — with the teacher's permission.

Student representatives from the city's high schools have led the effort to update what they say is an outdated policy around "student personal electronic devices."

The revised policy was presented to the Minneapolis School Board last week and will be voted on in August. It states that cellphones and similar devices can enhance the educational experience and that appropriate use should be defined between a teacher and the students in the classroom.

Current policy allows use of "personal electronic devices" only before and after school, and during lunch, passing periods and times when the teacher permits use for "educational purposes only."

"Using phones and technology isn't always a bad thing and won't limit our ability to learn," said Abdihafid Mohamed, one of two student representatives on the school board and a member of CityWide, the student leadership board that proposed updating the policy.

CityWide members meet twice monthly and collaborate with district leaders on issues they identify in their schools and across the district. Mohamed said cellphone use was a topic that repeatedly came up among representatives from each high school.

"We all came to the understanding that we all need our phones at some point and teachers sometimes take that opportunity away from us," the Edison High student said. "We grew up in a generation built on technology. We are codependent on it, so it's not something that can be completely stripped away during school. It needs to be directly incorporated into our day."

In a recent school board meeting with CityWide members, other students echoed Mohamed's point, saying that cellphones aren't always a distraction. Students use their phone's calculator and sometimes turn to Google to help answer research questions or quickly translate a new vocabulary word in a foreign language class, they said.

A silver lining of the pandemic "was the ability to learn what works best for students with technology," said CityWide member Jake Wesson, a student at Washburn High and former student school board representative. Phones are learning tools, he said, "and we can flip a negative policy into something positive."

The proposed amended policy would strike language saying that having personal electronic devices is a "privilege, not a right." It also would eliminate sections listing consequences for policy violations, which include confiscating a student's device if they are using it inappropriately.

The new language says the teacher would be responsible for outlining class protocol when it comes to cellphones and consequences for violations would follow other policies regarding student behavior issues.

"The collaboration piece with students is just huge," said School Board Member Lori Norvell, who is on the board's policy committee. As a former teacher, Norvell said she knows how effective it can be to establish rules and expectations with the participation of students.

"When you create those classroom norms together, the students really own it," she said, adding that the board plans to review the policy at least once a year as technologies in the classroom rapidly evolve.

Mohamed said many of his classes already incorporate "cellphone breaks" and most students are respectful of teachers' rules in class. But having updated districtwide language is important, he said, and it represents an important lesson for the CityWide members.

"The fact that we were included and invited to sit down and express our ideas is a big thing," Mohamed said. "That speaks to the fact that district leaders are listening and want students in the decision-making process."