AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — School board members for Akron Public Schools on Monday are expected to adopt a trial period to test out magnetically sealed pouches that would prevent students from accessing their cell phones during the school day.
Board members in January discussed concerns they have over the disruptions of cell phones in their schools and the difficulty of enforcing the district’s current policy that says cell phones must be turned off and out of sight during the day.
Schools, including Firestone High School, allow students to use their cell phones during study hall, in classes when the teacher allows it or at lunch.
But board members in January said they believe the phones actually contribute to violence.
“Fights are filmed, fights are arranged during the day through their cell phones to meet at certain places and so cell phones are a huge distraction overall. Then they become problematic in class when they should be listening to instruction or participating in learning instead of the drive of seeing what’s on their feed or what’s on their Instagram,” said Akron Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Dr. Stephen Thompson.
A delegation from Akron went to Dayton to observe their use of magnetically locking ‘Yonder’ pouches in which students place their phones when they come to school. The pouches are then magnetically unlocked at the end of the day.
Thompson tells FOX 8 the pouches are working well in Dayton.
On Monday, the school board is also expected to discuss Centigex badges that teachers and school employees can wear that allow them to press a button in the event of an emergency and send a signal that would summon help immediately, or in the case of an active shooter would immediately signal a lockdown of the school.
“I think there are tools that we can use to help make the policy more enforceable, right, so it’s not just as simple as asking a teacher or saying to a teacher, ‘Hey do your job. Enforce the policy, take the phone from the kid.’ I think we all know that’s not realistic,” said School Board President Dr. Derrik Hall.
Since that meeting, the board has asked for input from district parents teachers and administrators about what options they should consider when discussing cell phones.
Mark Vopat, whose son is a junior at Firestone, says he likes having the ability to connect with his son or for his son to have the opportunity to communicate with him if there is a lockdown or violence within the school.
“Somehow violence in the school has been intertwined with cell phone use as if these two are the same thing — removing the cell phones, we now have a quick fix to the violence we are experiencing,” said Vopat.
“I get that that is an easy solution. They say, ‘well, you know, these phones are used to coordinate fights in bathrooms.’ OK, well, that’s one use. The cell phone is a tool. It’s also a way that I can be sure my son is OK,” he added.
Vopat, who is also a professor at Youngstown State University, says he sees cell phones as a valuable tool that can be useful in education and that there is only a small percentage of students in the district are responsible for the problems.
He is not alone.
“We need to be considerate. These families are the ones who buy these cell phones for these students and pay for these plans. They definitely have to be at the forefront of whatever we decide,” said School Board Vice President Diana Autry.
“I think there are plenty enough smart people on the board. I think there are plenty of smart people in the community to come in and say, ‘look, we can come up with solutions to this without taking away that one sort of life line,'” said Vopat.