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MP3 ban hits sour note with Natick High students

By Kathleen Burge and Megan McKee
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / September 21, 2010

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NATICK — 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.’’

The school’s 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 could not 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 high school is not the first in the state to ban iPods and other electronic devices. At Framingham High School, students are prohibited from using cellphones and MP3 players 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 of an issue, Bertucci said. “You have 1,300 kids, you have 1,300 cellphones,’’ at the 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.

Flaherty said most students agree the cellphone 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.

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. Peter Sanchioni, the school superintendent, said committee members have already discussed it twice and have been supportive of the initiative, so he does not anticipate a change when they meet Sept. 27.

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.