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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Many say it's time to lock up cellphones in Conn. schools: 'Impossible situation'

    A recommendation from Gov. Ned Lamont earlier this month to limit cellphone usage in Connecticut schools brought about some mixed opinions. While some experts said students have become too attached to their phones and in some cases too distracted, others said there are benefits of having the devices in the classroom.

    But a survey of readers leaned heavily toward siding with Lamont, saying it is time to take phones out of the hands of students, especially during the school day.

    "Increasingly kids on the smart phones are tuning out each other, tuning out learning and tuning into unfiltered images which can be fun or disturbing," Lamont said this month during his State of the State address.

    Of the 100-plus responses received by CT Insider, most were in agreement with the governor.

    "I think locking up phones during the school day is a very good idea to address an impossible situation," wrote Chris Willems, a teacher in New Haven. He wrote that technology was designed to be highly engaging, more so than any lesson plan could be. "Ideally children would have regulations protecting them from harmful tech. Seeing as this is unpalatable to politicians we are left with little else than perhaps maybe putting a band-aid on at the schoolhouse door to address a systemic disease."

    Lamont recommended using a Yondr pouch, or a similar mechanism, that would allow students to safely store their phone during the day, unable to use it. Torrington and Manchester school districts have piloted programs to test pouches and Yondr has contracted with many school districts across the country.

    Shirley Menezes, who identified herself as working for the educational consulting company "Tomorrow's Genius" said that after Yondr bags were introduced at a school in the Bronx, N.Y., she was working with saw a massive increase in test scores. So much so that they ended their services with the consultants.

    Several readers who identified themselves as teachers also reached out, responding favorably. The common problem, according to the teachers who submitted replies, was that students were hiding phones during class. Two said that they repeatedly caught students streaming music or movies from hidden earbuds.

    "The new thing is they keep them hidden but listen to music all throughout the class period. Then they complain when they don't know what to do," wrote Tracey Andersen, a teacher living in Stratford. "It's a real issue, and parents just don't seem to care — they want their kids to have phones 'for safety.' How about the fact that your kids are not learning anything and can't focus on anything because all they want to do is go on their phones?"

    Willems said that students were, by and large, aware of how addictive smart phones were, how much it drove anxiety and depression.

    "Because of the way the technology has been engineered in most cases, like greater than 95 percent, they are unable to resist," said Willems. "To me that's a public health concern."

    Several people, including self-identified parents and teachers, brought up school safety and school shootings as motivators for keeping cell phones with students.

    "The only cogent argument, against the idea is, sadly, reports of terrified students hiding during an active shooter or similar emergency contacting their parents to let them know they are safe. But overall the downside of constant contact with and access to phones is huge," wrote Connie Reder of West Hartford. "Can we please show the courage and creativity to reach some kind of common sense compromise on this issue?"

    Several people submitted concerns about Yondr bags specifically including cost, security and management issues. If teachers were made to police whether students used the bags that might also be a burden on teacher time and energy, some said.

    "This new Yondr policy will be an unnecessary burden on teachers and other staff," said Erica Young of New Haven. She wrote that it didn't address the root problem of student engagement and any such policy should ask students to participate in drafting the rules. "Include them in solutioning and many of them will tell you how they want to be involved regarding their learning process, and not simply be taught at."

    Anne Tremonata-Veno of New Haven said that she had solicited students for what cell phone rules they'd like to see in her classroom.

    "It puts the onus on them to come up with a workable policy and consequences if someone violates the rules," Tremonata-Veno wrote. "It teaches them how to govern themselves. I did this in one of my classrooms and it worked."

    Willems, in interview, told CT Insider that developing a policy around phones in schools with students and parents was the best way to go. Schools and policy makers needed to "share agency" with teachers, parents and students.

    "Children should be making choices, learning from mistakes that they make ... so that they could build a healthy relationship with their phones without having authority take the phones away," said Willems. "I fear if we go down that road we will be alienating families, especially in districts like mine."

    Another reader pointed out that schools had begun to use cell phones to regulate student bathroom access, pointing to Stamford High School's use of the Minga app.

    "This article appeared on the front page of the Stamford Advocate the same day as an article appeared right next to it about Stamford High students having to use their cellphones to access a spreadsheet to see which bathrooms were open for use," wrote Sally Olson in Stamford. "If you don't want cell phone use than don't encourage it and unlock the bathrooms."

    The Stamford school district did not return comment for this story.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.