Akron Schools will lock up more student cell phones | #schoolsaftey

Akron Public Schools will lock student cellphones away during the school day in 13 schools to curb student misbehavior.

The Board of Education voted Monday night to approve $320,000 to expand a contract with Yondr, Inc. to lease magnetic-sealing pouches for students in 13 schools for the next three years. A little more than half of that will come from federal stimulus relief money and a safety grant from the state of Ohio.

The phones are locked into the Yondr pouches, which the students carry during class, They can’t access them until they are unlocked by school personnel.

Stephen Thompson, chief financial officer, said the district has been pleased with the results from a pilot program using the bags at East, Ellet and Buchtel high schools this spring.

“Consistently, we were running into challenges that, when you traced it to its root, it would often involve cell phones, whether that was bullying or filming of altercations and then putting them out on the Internet,” he said. “Whether that was checking your own social media feeds and what that can do to your mental health and where you kind-of stack up against others. And all those things, they still occur. We’re not naive. We know they still occur, but they’re not occurring at school.”

Pat Shipe, president of the Akron Education Association, said teachers have also been happy with the lock pouches, pointing to results of a survey of about 200 teachers at the buildings where the pilot study occurred.

According to survey results provided by district, nearly 96% of staff said students were more productive when their phones were sealed during school. Staff also reported that they believed students were less distracted and exhibited more “positive behavior” during lunch periods.

Parents at the three schools were also asked separate questions about cellphone usage and their students, and they had more divergent opinions on the topic. A little more than half said cellphone usage during school was not necessary and more than three-quarters said they believed there were negative consequences associated with cellphone use at schools.

A similar percentage said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the idea that student use of social media on cellphones can lead to increased cyberbullying and harassment. Students also gave mixed feedback to the school district, with some citing worries about needing to contact their parents.

Thompson said some exemptions are being considered to allow cellphone use for students with diabetes to check blood-sugar levels, for example, or during class field trips.

Shipe said other efforts to improve security and student behavior at buildings since last fall and winter have also born fruit. The teachers union almost went on strike amid lengthy contract negotiations late last year, with incidents like a student stabbing and two students bringing guns to school punctuating concerns about safety.

When you don’t hear from me, when you don’t get a call from me, which at one point in the last year I was on the phone daily to any number of you … Dr. Hall is laughing,” she said, referring to School Board President Derrick Hall, “when you haven’t been hearing from me on this issue, it is because things have been drastically improving.”

The board also approved about $500,000 dollars to purchase Centegix technology for staff at 15 schools for three years. Centegix makes a badge that teachers can wear on a lanyard. It allows them to send crisis alerts immediately to administrators and police.

The district has made a number of other changes, including new metal detectors, more frequent hallways patrols, upgrades to its camera security system and placing alarms on every door entrance (which will be complete this summer). In addition, after some delay, bag-scanners are expected to be in place before school starts in August.

Don Zesiger, director of safety and security, said the school district will be returning the metal detectors it just purchased this year at a cost of $1 million. Zesiger said the district would get a refund. The district will use the money to purchase cheaper models, because the bag-scanners will duplicate some of what the metal detectors do.

Finally, the district is seeking to purchase ballistic-protection coating for the first-floor windows of all school buildings, to make it harder for somebody with a gun to break inside.

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