In an effort to combat distractions, thwart cyberbullying, and promote cyber safety amongst students, Thorndale ISD will now require that all middle and high school students lock up their phones in special, secure bags while at school.
Thorndale ISD is outside of Taylor, northeast of Austin, and it is home to about 600 students.
Yondr is a program that the district will utilize to secure students’ cell phones. Each student in grades 6 – 12 will be given a Yondr pouch, which is equipped with magnetic locks. All students must bring the pouch to school every day, and they are expected to store their phone inside the locked pouch. Students can carry this pouch with them, but they cannot open it until the end of the school day when they finally wave the bag near a device that unlocks it.
Wireless ear buds and smart watches must also go in the pouch during school hours. It is unclear if this will also apply to personal tablets or laptops. If a student does not own any devices, they are still required to bring their pouch and show that it is empty. If a student fails to comply, they can be fined up to $15 and may face at least one day in suspension.
Another East Texas district—Corrigan-Camden ISD—has been utilizing Yondr and claims it has been transformative in creating a more productive and safer environment. CCISD claims higher student engagement, fewer distractions, and significantly less cyberbullying and other cyber safety issues.
Thorndale ISD also stated that it is safer for students to not use their phones during an emergency situation (according to law enforcement). In light of Uvalde, this is a controversial statement. However, classrooms in Texas all have landlines. Regardless, Thornton ISD also stated that it is devising a plan to allow access to phones during an emergency.
I completely agree that phones in classrooms are distracting and children can be brutal to each other online. However, every workplace environment I have ever been in—including public school faculty meetings—is rife with adults multi-tasking as they scroll and swipe on their phones. And there are plenty of adult trolls out there who refuse to play nice online.
Will removing phones from the classroom teach students the skills they need to focus and be empathic? Is a program like Yondr a band-aid or a useful teaching tool? If adults nowadays had Yondr when they were in school, would their phone etiquette today be any different? The modern world is dominated by our electronic devices and the distractions and self-expressive audacity that they provide us. Yes, productivity and safety are a district’s end goals, but removing phones from the equation may not be the most effective—or the only—answer. There is no single environment in our modern world that is void of phones, and forcing a classroom to be the lone phone-free space may be too unrealistic to prove useful in a lasting way.
On the other hand, when I was in the classroom, I fought the phone fight all day, every day. And I never won. So though I have questions for Yondr, I don’t have answers for you. One thing I do know for sure is that there is so much more to say on this topic. So I will follow up next week with more on phones in the classroom, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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