USD 410 plans new cell phone policy

A new cell phone policy for the high school was the main topic of conversation at the USD 410 board meeting on Monday, April 8.

Hillsboro Middle High School Principal Tyler Weinbrenner presented the new policy that will have students turn in cell phones when entering classrooms. The principal stated that a few teachers currently have students do this, but he would like to see it consistent across the board.

He said middle schoolers keep their phones in their bags but high schoolers have been allowed to carry theirs on them which is not ideal since even a phone vibrating in the pocket can distract the brain from learning.

“Cell phones have a high level of distractibility. We see it in society all the time. That’s on purpose because they’re designed to be addictive. Our current policy basically says cell phones shouldn’t be used in the instructional area or during instructional time. I feel our current cell phone policy does lack some consistency and allows for some distractions and other issues. Our hope in looking at proposing some tweaks to our current policy would be to promote a positive and engaging environment across the board and focus on high expectations for everybody,” said Weinbrenner.

The principal stated that he had been doing research into the case for phone-free schools, and while he wasn’t ready to go that far, there was compelling evidence for it.

“It’s a little bit alarming as you read through the research. Kids that are on their phones during class learn less. So they get lower grades. There’s also the health side of things with the self-harm related to social media—the anxiety and depression. We do see that. We see kids that just are struggling to cope and get through the day. And whether that cell phone is a security blanket for them or whether that cell phone is something that they just can’t get off of because they’re afraid of what they’re gonna see on there next,” said Weinbrenner.

He went on to talk about issues with lack of connection with others and discipline issues.

“There’s certainly a level of discipline-related issues that have risen from texting and social media things. Whether it’s Snapchat, which if you know anything about that is it’s very frustrating because the evidence disappears. So you do your investigation, you can’t find anything. We’re seeing some kids texting other kids and saying, ‘Hey, let’s go meet in this part of the building’, kids wanting to get out of class to go to the bathroom with the phones, some pictures and videos being taken, audio recordings and stuff like that without permission,” said Weinbrenner.

The new policy would have students turn off their cell phones and then turn them in along with smartwatches into a holder of some sort in each classroom when they enter. The phones will remain turned in for the entire class period

“If a student leaves the classroom while class is in session, they need to leave their cell phone in the class. We want to protect that classroom time, whether they’re in the classroom or they’re in the hallway. And I really think that’ll cut down on a lot of kids wanting to leave class because they won’t have the phone. And so they’ll go to the bathroom and they’ll get right back there. They still will be allowed to have their cell phones before school, after school, passing periods and lunchtime. It wouldn’t change there. But again, it’s just separating them from the phone during the instructional time,” said Weinbrenner.

Board member and Hillsboro Police Chief Jessey Heibert raised concerns with the new policy.

“I mean I appreciate where you’re going with this, but one thing I look at—when you remove a communication device from someone in the need of them reaching out to 911/ law enforcement, I mean if you go back and look at the active shooting scenarios and situations that happen within the schools, tremendous information comes in from cellular devices. We also tell everyone that when you leave the classroom, the last thing you do is go try to pick something up. So if you have everyone’s cell phones in a holder and we have an incident in a school and we decided the best course of action for that classroom is evacuation, they’re gonna be leaving the classroom without the device that they would use to communicate with law enforcement or 911,” said Hiebert. “I’m looking at it way differently than you are. I’m just looking at lifetime updates and critical situations. I’m thinking about my daughter. I don’t want her playing around on a cell phone in school, but if something happens and she bears witness or can provide critical information—lifesaving information—I would hate to have that ability taken away.”

The board discussed possible solutions to this such as keeping the holder containing the phones by the door so students could grab the phone on the way out the door if evacuated.

There was no voting on the policy. Weinbrenner told the board they will see the new policy in the handbook when they view it this summer.

The board also approved the following personnel changes:

  • the resignation of Brandi Hein from her position as Marion County Parent As Teachers Parent Educator effective July 1
  • the resignation of Terri Penner from her position as Hillsboro Middle/High School Custodian effective July 26
  • the issuance of a contract to Jacob Gunden to serve as Hillsboro High School Social Studies teacher for the 2024-2025 school year
  • the issuance of a contract to Hannah Jones to serve as Hillsboro Elementary Pre School teacher for the 2024-2025 school year
  • hired Tammy Ollenburger to serve as USD 410 Summer Painter for 40 hours per week for up to 10 weeks beginning May 20 at her regular rate of pay

In other business, the board:

* heard about a digital hall pass that Weinbrenner is testing out that tracks where students are when out of the classroom and how many times they use the restroom

* heard a report from Hillsboro Elementary School Principal Nathan Hiebert. Hiebert gave an update on the semester and all of the happenings at HES. He shared that they have started work on the community garden and have five families involved in the efforts.

* approved the purchase of a 2024 Ford Explorer for $33,995 from Hillsboro Ford.

* approved the base and alternate bids from DCS Services for the carpet (Supreme Floor Company, $115,537.68), concrete (Seaton Construction Group and Ziegler Electric Service Inc., $111,253.48), auditorium seating (Heartland Seating Inc. and Elcon Services, Inc., $116,799.40), auditorium stage floor (Supreme Floor Co., $45,033.89), auditorium sound and video (Glanzer Pro Audio and Elcon Services Inc., $82,805.09), and middle/high school secure entrance and district doors projects (Berumen Construction LLC, Higgins Group Inc., CBS Door & Hardware LLC, and Elcon Services Inc., $316,276.76). Work will begin this summer on these projects.

*approved the purchase of 21 staff laptop computers from Twotrees Technologies for $21,525 and

14 technology center computers from Twotrees Technologies for $15,750.

* approved the payment of bills totaling $452,100.60.

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