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SW Ohio school leaders weigh in on cellphone bans for students


More school districts across Southwest Ohio are enacting cellphone bans for students, but not all of them look the same.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted met with local school leaders at the Hamilton County Education Service Center to discuss their existing policies with the intent of helping shape future state guidelines.

Earlier this month, House Bill 485 was introduced by state Republicans. The bill would require schools to adopt a safety policy for students accessing the school's internet and provide instruction on the social, emotional, and physical effects of social media. Included in that is a ban on students using their phones or any personal device during instructional times except for emergencies and to manage a student's health care.

Both Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Husted have previously expressed their support for schools implementing their own student cellphone policy, but Husted says he doesn't support a state-wide ban just yet.

"We are not advocating for a law to ban it because we don't believe that we know at this stage what that best policy is," Husted told area educators during the roundtable discussion.

RELATED: DeWine says Ohio schools should consider phone-free policies for classrooms

Educators from Deer Park, Mt. Healthy, St. Bernard-Elmwood Place, West Clermont, and Yellow Springs schools shared details about their new policies and how students have handled them.

Yellow Springs Schools recently implemented a "pouch system" in January, where students place their phones in a pouch before the start of the school day and are not permitted to open it until the final bell rings.

In the short time since making the change, Yellow Springs Superintendent Terri Holden says there was little pushback from students and families.

"I think students want this," Holden said. "They know it's too much for them, but also because they don't have full frontal lobe development, they don't know how to regulate it. So, this has been a good thing for us."

Deer Park Schools has a similar system and is claiming to have success with it as well. Rather than making teachers and principals come up with their phone policy for each school or classroom, the district created one to be implemented district-wide.

John Vander Meer, principal of Deer Park Jr./Sr. High School says having the order come directly from the administration made it easier for educators to enforce it.

"When I sat down with our Superintendent Jay Phillips, he said, 'We're going to do this' and he said, 'You can blame it on us' and that was huge," Vander Meer said.

With the policy in place, Vander Meer says there's been little conflict between students and teachers over the rule, but that's not the case for every local school district.

RELATED: Indiana lawmakers ban cellphones in class. Now it's up to schools to figure out how

St. Bernard-Elmwood Place and Mt. Healthy City Schools say there's been a bit more resistance to their phone bans, largely due to the different circumstances their students face.

In the fall, a few teachers at Mt. Healthy's middle school piloted a program where students had to give up their devices once they entered the classroom. Those same teachers reported an increase in student participation and fewer conflicts between students. Soon after, the ban spread to every classroom in the school.

Still, Mt. Healthy's policy looks different than other school districts. Instead of an outright ban during the school day, the district allows middle schoolers to use their phones when they're in the hallway or have a break between classes.

The district's Director of Secondary Teaching and Learning Mindy Reichelt says this is because in a district like Mt. Healthy, with a higher student poverty rate than some others, students may have more responsibilities outside of school that need their attention during the day.

"I do believe there are legitimately some kids who are worried about their families or worried about things happening in the community and they want to be able to check to see what's happening," Reichelt told WVXU. "During the class, the cellphone is locked up but they can still have it at lunch, they can still have it in the halls."

Reichelt says the district plans to start expanding the policy in the coming years by enforcing it for 9th graders next school year who have already dealt with the policy in middle school. Eventually, Mt. Healthy wants to have a device ban for all its high school students, but whether the entire school community will fully accept it remains to be seen.

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.