New, stricter phone policy likely coming to Springfield schools. Here's what it might look like (2024)

Steven SpearieSpringfield State Journal- Register

While District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill isn't sure exactly how it will be implemented, middle and high schools will be cracking down on cellphone usage next school year.

That could include the purchase of Yondr pouches that lock up cellphones or other devices and can only be opened with a specialized magnet.

The issue of what to do has been taken up by Board of Education members at its last two meetings. A final vote hasn't been scheduled, but the clock is ticking. The first day of school is Aug. 19.

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Gill said the Springfield Education Association (SEA), the teachers' union, has been in on discussions around cellphones. The superintendent has met this summer with the principals of the district's three high schools and five middle schools.

A representative from Yondr could be at the next board meeting July 15.

According tothe data service GovSpend, Yondr saw more than a tenfold increase in sales from government contracts, primarily with school districts, from 2021 to 2023. The technology is being used in schools in 41 states, GovSpend reported.

"(There are) a lot of questions to be answered," Gill admitted. "We're ready and willing to dive in. It sounds like the board wants to know a little more information."

The district, she said, was concerned about the number of bullying incidents initiated by cellphones. Students also have been using them to record fights which are posted to sites like TikTok or Snapchat.

"That's breaking a lot of different rules," Gill said. "It's inappropriate, and we want that kind of behavior to stop."

The district has a cellphone policy in the student handbook. Middle schoolers must keep cellphones in their lockers during the school day, but the policy is more lenient for high schoolers who can have their cellphones out during lunch period.

Gill acknowledged it is up to individual schools to implement that policy and that's where some inconsistency may come about.

SEA President Aaron Graves said teachers are ready to not have cellphones and other digital distractions in classrooms.

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"It is certain that they are negatively impacting students' mental health, a catalyst in many arguments and fights and are preventing students from learning," Graves told The State Journal-Register via text. "We have been pushing on (administration) to take a stand for safer and more orderly schools.

"This would be a start, if done correctly and evenly across the board."

Board President Micah Miller said he was in favor of the purchase of the Yondr pouches. That could set back the district $200,000 to $250,000.

"We've got concerns about the emotional health of the students," Miller said. "There are distractions throughout the day that manifest into poor grades, but at the core, the biggest problem we've been facing is the behavioral issues that have been coming from technology.

"If you can get increased attention in the classroom and some of the other perks that come with it, I'm all for it."

Board member Sarah Blissett said she isn't a fan of Yondr pouches yet.

"I can get there, if we have to," Blissett said. "My biggest concern is that you can do a really quick Google search and find about 50 YouTube videos on how to unlock them without a locking device."

Buffy Lael-Wolf contended the cost for the Yondr pouches is steep for the district and questioned if enough has been done to enforce a policy already on the books.

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"I want to be able to say to the taxpayers in this city we tried everything, and it didn't work and now we're going to have to spend $250,000 to make it happen," said the board member. "I don't feel like we've tried everything. I feel like we've had the words down on paper, but I don't feel like we truly implemented a cellphone policy in this district, and before I approve a $250,000 receipt, I want to be able to say that."

Board member Ken Gilmore, a former principal, said the district needs to gird itself against blowback for any new policy.

"I think we're going to get a lot of pushback from this, but years ago there was a lot of pushback when high schools closed campuses (to students)," he said. "Times change."

Contact StevenSpearie: 217-622-1788; sspearie@sj-r.com; X, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.

New, stricter phone policy likely coming to Springfield schools. Here's what it might look like (2024)

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