Student cellphone use prohibited at Pioneer district schools starting in August

Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield.

Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO

The Pioneer Valley Re School District School Committee unanimously adopted a policy prohibiting student cellphone use during the school day Thursday evening, as the district prepares to purchase magnetic Yondr cellphone pouches.

The Pioneer Valley Re School District School Committee unanimously adopted a policy prohibiting student cellphone use during the school day Thursday evening, as the district prepares to purchase magnetic Yondr cellphone pouches. SCREENSHOT/BERNARDSTON NORTHFIELD COMMUNITY TELEVISION

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-07-2024 1:53 PM

NORTHFIELD — Beginning in August, Pioneer Valley Regional School District students will be prohibited from using cellphones at any time during the school day.

In a unanimous vote Thursday, the School Committee approved a policy charging district administrators with determining the best path forward to limit cellphone use and encourage academic focus at Pioneer Valley Regional School, Northfield Elementary School and Bernardston Elementary School.

That path forward, Superintendent Patricia Kinsella said, is the use of magnetic Yondr pouches. In the morning, each student places their turned-off phone in a locked pouch, where it remains until the end of the school day.

“It’s not a panacea; there will be kids who buy rare earth magnets on Amazon [to unlock the Yondr pouches], there will be kids who have burner phones, and that’s OK, we’ll figure it out,” Kinsella said. “We’re going to try. We’ll monitor carefully and see how students respond.”

Pioneer will pay $15,000 for the pouches, with funding coming from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Approaches to Address Student Cellphone Use Pilot Grant, according to Director of Finance and Operations Jordan Burns.

In a discussion on the policy, School Committee members brought up some of the concerns they heard from parents. Member Michele Giarusso said some families brought up questions to her about last-minute schedule changes for sporting events or whether students will be allowed to use phones during lunch or other free periods.

Melissa Gerry, chair of the Policy Subcommittee that developed the phone regulation, said there are several avenues for coaches to communicate schedule changes with students through the school. As for phone use during time outside the classroom, she pointed to the policy that explicitly states students are “not to have access to personal electronic devices during the school day.”

“The school day would encompass lunch time and passing periods,” Gerry said, adding that the school has clear methods for parents and coaches to reach students during the day.

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“When there is a rain delay because the storm is coming for baseball, there’s announcements that are made and that’s clearly communicated through the school to the students,” Gerry said. “There is going to be a culture change and shift that students and staff and everybody will go through, but there’s avenues for students to be able to access their parents when needed. All that is going to be communicated as we roll this out.”

In response to concerns about students with medical needs being unable to access a phone, School Committee Chair Reina Dastous noted accommodations can be made.

“I do want to say, no policy is ever going to be perfect. It’s never going to meet everyone’s needs,” she said, adding that accommodations can be made if absolutely necessary. “There is room for that within any policy and that is no different with this.”

Pioneer is far from the only district tackling student cellphone use. Greenfield’s public schools instituted the use of Yondr magnetic pouches for students’ phones in 2022 and Mohawk Trail Regional School is expanding its “Off and Away, All Day!” pilot program from the middle school to the high school this fall.

Communication and information regarding Pioneer’s phone policy is expected to go out to district families soon.

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