New cell phone policy cuts classroom interruption

A new cell phone policy has succeeded in significantly reducing phone-related interruptions in class at both the high school and middle school.

That was the key information coming out of an update on the new policy during last week’s meeting of the Pulaski County School Board.

School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers provided the board with an update on how the new policy is working out – a policy that has resulted in complaints from some parents.

While the new policy took effect this fall, discussion on cell phones has been ongoing for some time.

School officials began studying the cell phone issue over a year ago at a board member’s request.

Last October it was reported a survey of county teachers found they were dealing with student misuse of cell phones an average of 29 times per week.

And while some teachers allowed use of cell phones for instructional purposes, a majority of teachers did not, and two-thirds of teachers said cell phones had a negative impact on the learning environment.

Later, Siers reported, a meeting was held between high school students, middle school students, teachers, administrators, and school board members regarding a proposed revision to the student code of conduct that would restrict cell phone use in schools.

Siers said while students were not in favor of restricting cell phone use, they did demonstrate an understanding of how it negatively impacted their classes and frequently caused their teachers to get off task in order to deal with cell phone related behaviors.

Students also discussed the negative impact that cell phones played in the bullying and harassment of students during the school day.

In December of last year, the school board voted to approve a change to the student code of conduct that restricted student cell phone use during the instructional day.  It was decided that the change would go into effect with the 2020-2021 school year since that is when all middle and high school students would receive a PCPS issued Chromebook which would allow students to have an electronic device that could be used for educational purposes and eliminate the need for using cell phones.

In June of this year, the school board approved the purchase of Yondr pouches for the 2020-2021 and the 2021-2022 school year for the middle and high school.

Yondr pouches are somewhat larger than a cell phone and have a magnetic button that locks when the pouch is closed. Phones are inserted into the pouches where they stay until the pouch is unlocked.

The cost of the pouches was based on an individual price of $12.50 per student each year for a total of $26,750 per year.

While some have criticized the cost of the pouches, Siers noted the estimated cost of lost instructional time to deal with student misuse of cell phones in class was equivalent to five full time teaching positions or approximately $250,000 per year.

Students were introduced to the Yondr pouches when schools opened in September.

Since then, Siers reported, 97 percent of teachers said the use of Yondr pouches had been effective in preventing students from using their cell phones during class.

Over 94 percent of teachers said the new policy and use of Yondr pouches had been helpful to classroom instruction.

Teachers also reported the average number of interruptions to instruction in their classroom had dropped from 29 per week to just three.

Siers added that incidents of social media bullying and harassment during school have been virtually non-existent so far this school year, which he said had freed up school administrators and School Resource Officers to work on other issues.

He added that incidents of students “sexting” during the school day had been virtually non-existent this year, meaning that students are not having to be investigated for being in possession of child pornography.

Siers said students are less able to communicate during class to coordinate behaviors such as vaping, drug use and others.

“Schools are safer, more instruction is happening, students feel less pressure to communicate with their friends during school, students are learning to be more independent, we are helping students become better prepared for the workforce and less charges are being filed against students,” Siers told the school board.

Siers said his recommendation to the board is the same as an overwhelming majority of secondary teachers, “In that we keep the policy and the Yondr program in place as the overall benefits are well worth the cost.”

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot