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Greece students will no longer have access to their phones in class starting next school year

LA Johnson

Starting next school year, some Greece Central School District schools will be cellphone-free for students.

The district’s Board of Education voted Tuesday to adopt a policy for students in grades six through 12 that makes the devices inaccessible during the school day.

Greece Olympia High School principal Marc Fleming said Wednesday that it’s one way to interrupt violence in school, reasoning that restricting access to the phones would halt cyberbullying during the day.

"They're using that phone to meet up to get into physical conflict or they’re recording physical conflicts, and then those (videos) are getting disseminated to other students,” Fleming said. “It seems to be much more prevalent now that we’ve returned from the pandemic.

“Students will often stop in a hallway during passing time or when they're supposed to be in class, to do a, you know, a TikTok video,” he said. “We've certainly seen an increase in vandalism throughout our school buildings as a result of the TikTok challenges.”

Students will be required to place their cellphones into a lockable pouch made by the company Yondr when they enter school. The phones can be unlocked at dismissal. Fleming said students will be expected to take the pouches to and from school with them.

The decision was partly inspired by a similar approach at East High School that’s been in effect since April.

In a presentation to the school board on Tuesday, the district estimated the cost to be about $98,000. Fleming, who was on the committee that researched the matter, said it’s a worthwhile investment.

“Adding $100,000 to our budget for thousands and thousands of students in our district to help ensure that they're getting not only the educational services that they deserve, but also the social and emotional well-being that will help them be functioning adults in our democracy, I do think that price tag is worth it,” Fleming said.

Board president Sean McCabe said he’s heard pushback from some parents and students over the decision to lock up phones in school — including concerns over how students will be able to make a call in an emergency. However, district leaders explained on Tuesday that there are phones in classrooms that can be used.

McCabe hopes this change will force students to focus on their classwork and keep them out of trouble.

“In my generation, when there was a fight, there was a fight. It was over with,” McCabe said. “Now 15 people videotape that fight, and it's all over social media and the bullying then continues, or the issues around that continue.”

McCabe said the board will revisit the policy in December.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November, excessive screen time for adolescents poses risks to physical and mental health.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.