Swiss school taken to court for confiscating student's mobile phone for a week
A family from Canton Fribourg is planning to take the Swiss school system to court after teachers confiscated their child’s mobile phone for a whole week. The incident has raised questions about whether cell phones have a place in the classroom, with even some federal politicians weighing in.
17-year-old student has phone taken for a week
According to 20 Minuten, the 17-year-old in question was on a year-long exchange at the school in Marly, Fribourg. Currently, there is a ban on mobile phones at the school, meaning students are only able to use electronic devices with the teacher’s permission and are not allowed to use phones anywhere on school grounds.
After P.E., the boy, who has not been named by the newspaper, made the mistake of trying to listen to music in the locker room. He was quickly caught and his phone was confiscated, not until the end of the school day, but for an entire week. What’s more, the student did not get his phone back in the evenings or on the weekend.
Father calls week-long phone ban disproportionate
The boy’s father told 20 Minuten that "the fact that my son can't be reached for a whole week seems disproportionate to me." He argued that, as he shares custody of his child with his ex-wife, “We don't see each other regularly for several days - it's not possible for me to get in touch with him during this time." Now, he has launched court proceedings against the school authorities to determine whether the punishment was justified.
In response, the head of the school in Marly told 20 Minuten that while she could not comment on the case due to official court secrecy, the school strives “to ensure the best possible care for every student. With benevolent educational support and in strict compliance with the school law, regulations and other guidelines."
The newspaper added that school law in Fribourg prohibits the use of electronic devices by students in primary, secondary and higher education unless authorised and allows the school to confiscate these items “immediately.”
Swiss politicians agree with no phones in schools
Interestingly, the case in Fribourg has made it all the way into the corridors of power in Bern, with some politicians questioning whether the policy is appropriate in the 21st century. Social Democratic National Councillor Matthias Aebischer argued that "mobile phones do not belong on the school desk…But locking away the phone of a 17-year-old for a whole week is going too far."
In a rare moment of bipartisanship, Swiss People’s Party councillor Diana Gutjahr completely agreed, telling 20 Minuten that “in our company, the use of mobile phones by our apprentices is also forbidden. But we don't control it very strictly." “Rules are needed – and those who don’t stick to them have to face the consequences…But I think a whole week is rather exaggerated.”
Blanket phone bans not enough, says education expert
On the other side, Thomas Merz from the University of Education in Thurgau told 20 Minuten that "for a 17-year-old, a week's smartphone withdrawal is a drastic cut that is hardly proportionate." He said that “simply pronouncing a general ban on smartphones at school is not enough. At best, this is a short-term solution to an acute challenge.”
However, he said that “mobile-free” times and zones can be effective as "a school is a place for social contacts, for exchange and encounters. It can be difficult if everyone is glued to their smartphone on the way to school, at the playground or even in class.”