Pioneer eyes policy to curb student cellphone use

Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield.

Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-24-2024 4:06 PM

Modified: 05-24-2024 4:11 PM


NORTHFIELD — In an effort to curb student cellphone use, the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee has put forward a draft policy prohibiting use of personal electronic devices during the school day.

The school is joining others in Franklin County, the state and across the country in the battle to rein in cellphone use by advancing a uniform policy the district can refer to. Currently, cellphone use is governed by the student handbook, which places the responsibility on teachers to police the use of phones.

Thursday’s meeting served as the first reading of the policy and the School Committee will continue to collect feedback and bring the matter back for a potential vote at its next meeting on June 6.

“The handbook places the primary responsibility and the burden of managing cellphone use on teachers,” said Policy Subcommittee Chair Melissa Gerry, “and what we know is this is not effective, nor fair, and it is not applied unilaterally across the school.”

Instead, the School Committee is proposing that “students not have access to personal electronic devices during the school day.” Further information on how the policy, if adopted, will be implemented will come from the School Committee at its next meeting.

Gerry said 78% of respondents to a survey regarding cellphone use noted students were using their phones for non-academic purposes. The survey was answered by 78% of the high school’s faculty, 57% of the two elementary schools’ faculty and 33% of the district’s instructional assistants.

In an open-response section of the survey, Gerry said the overwhelming sentiment among staff was that a cellphone policy would result in “fewer distractions in a multitude of ways.”

“What it comes down to is more and more of our students, and our younger students, have access to cellphones during the school day,” Gerry said. “We know what we need to do is keep our district on pace with what researchers are learning about the impact of cellphones on children and youth.”

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Gerry also laid out some of the concerns shared by district families. After-school schedule changes, safety, emotional support and teaching responsible cellphone use topped the list. She said the school will be addressing these challenges and concerns in the outreach materials that will be distributed.

In its discussion Thursday, School Committee members showed support for the policy, as they noted even they themselves have trouble limiting phone use.

“Adults are not exempt from this either. I know children’s brains are developing, but I know a lot of adults who have a difficult time managing their time on cellphones,” said member Silvia Cummings. “This is a beast we’re all trying to manage, but it is our responsibility to help manage it for the children.”

Member Stephen Martin compared the introduction of cellphones in schools to opening Pandora’s box.

“If Pandora opened her box and said, ‘I have this item for you, bring it into school and it will predictably worsen students’ relationships with each other and staff,’” Martin said, also noting detrimental effects on mental health and learning, “I’d think we’d say to Pandora, ‘I’d take a pass on that.’”

Pioneer is not the first district in the region to consider some sort of policy to curb cellphone use. In Greenfield’s public schools, the School Committee directed the administration in 2022 to implement programs prohibiting cellphone use. The district opted to purchase the Yondr magnetic pouches and require students to place their phones in them each morning.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.