From school pride to ‘courageous’ cell-phone policy, here’s what Chief Sealth IHS PTSA talked about at kickoff meeting

(WSB file photo)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

To borrow a sports phrase, this is a “rebuilding year” for the Chief Sealth International High School PTSA, with an all-new board.

This week, they kicked off the year with the first quarterly general meeting, and were heartened by the turnout – ~30 parents, students, staff gathered in the Sealth library to talk about everything from school spirit to the new no-cell-phones-in-class policy.

New co-presidents Shannon McDonald and Cami Peloza led the meeting. First, some internal business – the board still has a few openings, from vice president to some committee chairs. (If you’re interested, email The PTSA plans a fundraising auction in December and a “direct drive” in spring. Right now they’re also interested in more members (the coordinator is community member Preston Anderson), to rebuild that base too; here’s how to join. Students are free, and there’s a scholarship fund for anyone else who can’t afford the nominal dues.

That’s all in line with th PTSA’s “strategic plan” for this year, which calls for encouraging more student/staff/family involvement in the organization and with the school in general. Other parts of the plan: Be more inclusive of families of color, to “get the PTSA away from being primarily white women”; to work more closely with the ASB (student leadership) and school leaders; develop strong relationships with staff; work with other major school-support organizations like Denny-Sealth Performing Arts; and to bolster CSIHS’s image in the West Seattle community, shining a light on student achievements, supporting caretaking of the school property, etc.

CELL-PHONE POLICY: As it happens, this new policy (no cell-phone use except before/after school and at lunch, as noted here earlier this week) is also bolstering Chief Sealth’s image – principal Ray Morales says he’s heard from other high schools interested in implementing something similar themselves. But before he spoke, reps from the Building Leadership Team explained how they came up with the policy. A teacher proposed it, said Maha Giundi of the BLT, which is a group, elected by school staff, that meets every other week. They worked on it over the summer; “we were really nervous about it but so far it’s been successful.” Even the rollout to students went more smoothly than expected; Giundi said they thought they’d be booed for it. Parent support is overwhelmingly in favor, according to a survey sent out with principal Morales’s original announcement. “It’s not punitive – it’s a policy, not a rule.”

Overall, Giundi explained, the motivation is increased mental health – it’s been shown that being glued to their phones has been detrimental to that. So far, they’re seeing people “talking to each other!” And there’s no question it’s a boon to teachers too – “we were tired of asking folks to put their phones away.” One attendee described the policy as “courageous.”

Principal Morales followed the BLT reps.

He said everyone worked hard to get full staff buy-in – the school has a staff of 135 – as they strategized how to roll it out, how to explain it, pointing to research and data supporting it. He expressed gratitude to students as well as staff: “It’s been a heavy lift and it’s going to continue evr=ery single day.”

One big question – are there consequences for not complying? How do teachers enforce it? So far, two weeks into th school year, he says it hasn’t come to a clash between educator and student, but, he said, the first step would be to have a conversation with the student “in a restorative way, not punitive … before it gets to the point of discipline. This isn’t about controlling anybody … it’s about support, it’s about mental health.” And he said he can appreciate the policy in multiple ways – for one, as the parent of a 16-year-old, and for two, in following it himself – he’s relying on two-way radio communication around the campus rather than using and endlessly checking his cell phones. “Many staff have been modeling this too.”

And he acknowledged the concerns of parents who want to reach their students in an emergency. For one, they can call the office and they’ll get a message to the student. If it’s a shelter-in-place situation, Morales, for the first time, said he is empowered to get a message out to parents immediately, “within minutes”; previously, he said, a message would have to go through district officials, who would have to “wordsmith” it, but now that’s changed. He said it’s preferable for one version of a message to get out, through the administration, because when students put something on social media “there are hundreds of versions of what’s happening,” so eliminating that option is “actually safer.”

One person suggested that in addition to getting a message out quickly to parents, administration should brief students, at least before the school day ends, on what happened. One of the students at the meeting said it would be even better to tell them quickly what’s going on: “We’re the ones in the school, it’s our safety” that’s at stake.

In summary, Morales said the new policy is “shifting culture, and it’s huge.” It’ll take a while to become ingrained – “our ninth-graders are so OK with this,” 11th- and 12th-graders less so, but as one attendee said, “it takes 30 days to make a habit,” and they’re well on the way. (Side note: We asked the district about this, and they responded that there’s no district-wide rule on cell-phone use, so, “Schools/principals have the discretion to implement reasonable procedures that align with SPS policies and serve their school communities.”)

One other improvement this year – they have been able to keep restrooms open because the graffiti problems of the past haven’t manifested so far. (The ones in the galleria are closed post-breakfast and pre-lunch because there’s no reason for them to be in use at other times anyway.)

Overall, Giundi from the Building Leadership Team offered, school pride can be infectious, and they encourage students to take pride in where they are. That pride is something the PTSA will be encouraging and supporting this year too.

WHAT’S NEXT: The year’s three other general PTSA meetings are currently scheduled for January 23rd, March 19th, and June 4th. Before then, set your calendar for the Chief Sealth PTSA auction in Brockey Center at South Seattle College (WSB sponsor) on December 2nd.

19 Replies to "From school pride to 'courageous' cell-phone policy, here's what Chief Sealth IHS PTSA talked about at kickoff meeting"

  • Rick September 21, 2023 (9:41 pm)

    I think the cell phone policy is a marvelous idea all the way around! Bravo!

  • Harvey September 22, 2023 (6:13 am)

    I’m unclear as to why all of SPS hasn’t adopted this cell phone policy district wide. Seems like we still have a lack of leadership at the top. This is a no-brainer. 

  • Mark September 22, 2023 (6:14 am)

    As an ex-WS’er here with no kids, I think the cell-phone policy is great!  I’d like to see more schools all over implement this type of rule.

  • LyndaB September 22, 2023 (9:07 am)

    It’s about mental health and productivity.   It’s good to get in a habit of it.  

  • Blbl September 22, 2023 (9:09 am)

    I’d like to see that cell phone policy enforced the next time Taylor Swift tickets go on sale. 

    • Brian September 22, 2023 (9:48 am)

      I don’t think most teens have that kind of cash so this caveat falls fairly flat. 

    • Ferns September 22, 2023 (12:10 pm)

      These are TEENS. I’d like to see one who has enough money to buy tickets to a concert like that. Maybe they can get their butler to buy them. 

  • SLJ September 22, 2023 (9:11 am)

    Cell phone policy is great–I hope other middle and high schools follow suit.

  • Scarlett September 22, 2023 (9:40 am)

    I am far more concerned about teaching students learning to think for themselves than cell phones.  

  • Osprey September 22, 2023 (11:10 am)

    As a retired SPS teacher and parent, I applaud not only the policy but the process. This was a well thought out, informative at every step, collaborative plan that included all participants. Something, by the way, which when not implemented, causes most “rules” decreed by the district or most schools’ administrations to be doomed to failure. When everyone is part of the process, everyone buys in to the product.
    Kudos to the BLT, staff, students, and families.

  • Sitkas September 22, 2023 (11:28 am)

    I’m encouraged to hear that CSIHS is finally doing this.  It follows a lot of urging from parents like myself of former students there who repeatedly expressed frustration at their lack of policy enforcement on this issue.  But let’s keep it real, a no-cell-phone-in-class policy is nothing new or revolutionary. Other districts and schools in the area have been doing it for a while, in fact even within SSD. And prior to Covid disruptions, even CSIHS used to be stricter on this .Let’s restate some facts:1) Unless SSD changed their student responsibilities/expectation handbook recently – you know, the one my kids signed every year prior to starting the school year – it used to clearly state that cell phones were not permitted to be out during instruction time/without explicit teacher permission etc.2) Some teachers at CSIHS used to enforce this – even keeping cell phones in cubbies in certain classes – but it was not enforced consistently across the school, which tended to undermine the effort made by teachers who did enforce the rules more strictly.3) New school year letters or messages from some CSIHS teachers would often re-emphasize this no cell phone in class policy.4) I had direct correspondence in the past from certain CSIHS teachers who were frustrated that the rules were not being consistently enforced, telling me that as a result they felt they could not continue doing that in their own class since they would spend all their time battling the issue and have no time to teach.5) Other Seattle School District schools already do this. Ballard, Garfield, probably others. Check their policies and guide books. It’s clearly stated.6) Other surrounding districts enforce a no cell phone in class policy district-wide. Check Bellevue for example.7) It is quite common to hear from teachers (within CSIHS, in the wider district and in neighboring districts) expressing the sentiment that things became considerably harder after the return from remote learning following Covid disruptions. But now, like at Chief Sealth, they realize the need to get a handle on this issue again.  Here is the recent update from the principal at Issaquah High School for example: Not long ago there was a big deal made about Seattle and other school districts filing a lawsuit against social media companies with respect to their very significant negative impact on students’ mental health. Well, if they are serious, then a first and most basic step would be to at least get real about enforcing the expectations and rules regarding cell phone use at school since it is safe to say kids are not clamoring to get cell phones out in class so they can hop onto Wikipedia!The renewed commitment to this by CSIHS is good to hear. But, it is well overdue and simply brings the school in line with what many other schools are also doing.

  • Al September 22, 2023 (11:38 am)

    I would like to see more emphasis on pride and respect for the community around the school.  Especially since 2020 there are constant issues with students doing graffiti, littering, loitering, drinking or smoking weed, and generally disrespecting properties around the school.  Maybe have a school litter cleanup on the alleys off of 25th and 26th or invest in more trash and recycling cans.  Also for SPS more generally, please close the school and athletic field parking lots after hours to discourage stunting and racing.

  • West Seattle resident September 22, 2023 (12:59 pm)

    This policy is not “courageous” – it’s the bare minimum to expect students to remain focused on learning during class time and not be distracted by phones. Teachers shouldn’t be nervous about asking students to hand over those devices or put them away and out of use, until the end of class. If a child is going to have a meltdown over it, then it’s probably time to have a conversation about why they can’t put their phones down for a solid 30-45 minutes or an hour, why they constantly feel the need to look at the phone? Find ways for them to detach from devices and improve their levels of concentration.

    • Brian September 22, 2023 (3:04 pm)

      I can’t wait for you to teach my children. What grades do you teach right now?

      • West Seattle resident September 22, 2023 (3:15 pm)

        How is your question relevant to what I wrote there? I’m not a teacher. 

    • Brandon September 22, 2023 (4:39 pm)

      I’ve been trying to say the same thing.  Why we’re having a school make a policy over soft skills taught at home is beyond me.

    • Matt September 24, 2023 (1:15 pm)

      100% agree. This just seems like common sense and seems surprising it took them so long to enact a policy. I graduated from from HS 15 years ago and a policy like this already existed. 

  • NWMama September 22, 2023 (8:33 pm)

    Madison Middle also has no cell phone policy 

    • More common sense policies September 24, 2023 (1:00 pm)

      And they desperately need one but the principal is barely engaged.The MM teachers need more support than they are given. 

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