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Richardson ISD school board to discuss cell phone restrictions for middle, high schools

According to the board's action item, the goal is to let students carry their phones in pouches that would limit access to them throughout the day.
Credit: Story Blocks

RICHARDSON, Texas — The Richardson ISD (RISD) school board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Thursday to a long agenda. One of the most controversial subjects on that agenda is a proposal that would limit some students' access to their cell phones.

The action item is listed on the agenda as V.E.: Consider Under RFCSP #22-196 - Acquisition Cell Phone Free School Environment Program. The rule would apply to the districts "secondary campuses," meaning middle and high schools.

Under the proposal, students would have to put their phones in protective cases that would be locked throughout the school day. Students wouldn't be able to access their phones until the end of the day.

The action item says administrators think it's "necessary" to restrict cell phone access so there can be "an orderly learning environment on Richardson ISD secondary campuses".

According to the action item, Superintendent Tabitha Branum also recommends that the Board approves the program. The school board hopes to start the program at a price no higher than $401,000.

"One of the things we've heard from our educators -- especially our classroom educators -- is the real distraction that cell phones can be for our students," Branum told WFAA. "It can be a real barrier for them focusing on what they're meant to do in class, which is to keep their focus on their own learning."

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The superintendent also said the district has a cell phone free policy, outside of lunch. But because of the stress teachers have endured during the pandemic, the district loosened enforcement of the policy.

If approved, the school board has already found a company that would be involved in the program.

The action item says 11 potential vendors looked at a notice of the program that was sent by the RISD Purchasing Department. Yondr, Inc. was the only company that submitted a response.

"RISD staff reviewed and scored the submission. The solution proposed by Yondr, Inc. closely meets the districts' function, technical, cost and vendor fit requirements."

According to the company's website, Yondr's phone pouches have been used for concerts, events and in schools. Students would have to put their phones in pouches that would automatically lock in the schools. The pouches would unlock as they leave.

The Yondr website says they've been making phone-free spaces in schools since 2014. According to the RISD action item, the company has similar programs in five school districts across the state.

Branum said the district will run a month-long pilot trial at one of the middle schools where students will have to put their phones into Yondr pouches during the day. Teachers will lock them at the beginning of the day and won’t unlock them until the end of the day. 

According to the superintendent, the district is spending $25,000 for the single campus. 

There's a wide spectrum of responses coming from parents. Branum said some acknowledge how distracting cell phones can be for students, but others are concerned about how they'll be able to talk to their kids during the day.

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