Hadley board eyes cellphone limits for Hopkins students

  • Voters walk into Hopkins Academy in Hadley first thing Tuesday morning.

Staff Writer
Monday, August 01, 2022

HADLEY — Hopkins Academy students may be prohibited from using cellphones during the school day as the School Committee considers adopting a new policy for electronic devices after hearing significant concerns from teachers about their impact on learning.

“If we can find a way to limit students’ distractions during the day, then I’m all for it,” School Committee member Ethan Percy said at Monday’s meeting, where discussions began on a draft of the student phone policy and guidelines.

According to the language of the policy, which cites the Hadley public schools’ values of diversity, inclusivity, growth mindset, empathy and deeper learning, “to assist students in living these values and to have the opportunity to access a rigorous and challenging education, phones (and smart watches) are not to be used during school.”

Superintendent Anne McKenzie said there are increasing worries from staff about students using their cellphones during classroom instruction, with teachers overwhelmingly identifying cellphones as a problem.

Anout 10% of all discipline matters for students are related to use of cellphones, McKenzie said.

The policy would state that a lockable Yondr Pouch be provided to each student to keep their phone safe and create a distraction-free learning environment. The cellphone would be put inside the pouch as students arrive for the school day. They would be allowed to take it out at the end of the school day, with certain exceptions.

Hopkins Principal April Camuso said those exceptions might include students with senior privileges who can leave the campus, and juniors and seniors who head out to internships or other off-campus assignments.

School officials in Greenfield discussed adopting a similar policy earlier in July and also using Yondr as a vendor for securing cellphones during the school day.

But whether the new policy in Hadley has support from a majority of the committee is uncertain, in part due to surveys of parents showing most don’t have issues with their children using cellphones in school, and there is a preference for continuing to be able to communicate with them in case of emergencies.

Committee member Tara Brugger said she could support a revised policy, but not one that would take cellphones away from students all day.

“We need to find a middle ground,” Brugger said, calling it extreme to go from one end of the spectrum, where no restrictions exist, to the other where cellphones are essentially banned.

Brugger said she would like to try out a new policy and then have teachers and students reassess it.

“The school system is simply trying to aid students and their learning capabilities and help teachers decrease the amount of distractibility between students and their teaching,” Brugger said.

Committee Chairwoman Humera Fasihuddin said the policy could harm the district’s ability to attract school choice students, noting that there are a lot of unscheduled things during the course of the day, and parents and their children should be able to communicate.

Paul Phifer said he is troubled by the disconnect between parents, who have mostly said cellphones are not an issue, and teachers.

McKenzie said students could go to the main office to make phone calls, or use phones in the classrooms.

“It’s not as if there’s no other way to communicate,” said committee member Christine Pipczynski. She also calls the policy a best practice effort, rather than a punishment.

Any policy change would likely apply to the upper grades at Hadley Elementary School.

Fifth and sixth graders are allowed to have devices, but only in their backpacks, said Principal Jennifer Dowd.

So far there has not been a rampant problem there. “Frankly, it’s never been an issue at HES,” Dowd said.

Still, if the new policy of pouching is implemented, Dowd said elementary school students allowed to bring cellphones to school would abide by the pouching policy.

The committee expects to revisit the topic next month.