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Richardson ISD backs off on 'locking pouches' for student cell phones during school day

The pouches will now only be tested at Forest Meadow Junior High at the beginning of the semester per Superintendent Tabitha Branum.

RICHARDSON, Texas — The Richardson Independent School District is pumping the brakes on proposed 'locking cell phone pouches' for students to utilize throughout the day during the upcoming school year -- at least districtwide at secondary schools. 

Superintendent Tabitha Branum originally wanted school board members to vote on implementing the pouches at middle and high school campuses at a meeting Thursday night. 

But after a strong parent reaction, the vote was pulled from the agenda, and Branum announced that a small pilot program for the pouches would be done at Forest Meadow Junior High at the beginning of the school year. 

Under the pulled 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 or in case of an emergency.

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 hoped to start the program at a price no higher than $401,000.

Per Branum, the district is spending $25,000 for the FMJH campus. 

"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 learning."

The superintendent also said the district does have 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.  

Branum intends to enforce the policy more strongly this semester and compare discipline handed out at FMJH and other secondary schools to see if the pouches should expand. 

"We will share that data publicly, and it will allow us to see how the implementation works and then collect data," Branum said. "At all other schools, turn the phones off, keep them in your backpacks except at lunch, and if we see it, we will take it." 

Branum said many parents had an issue with the idea of a phone barrier in the way in case of some sort of emergency like an active shooter situation. 

Other parents praised the idea of reducing screen time.

Some parents didn't like that they wouldn't be able to be in constant contact with their children.

"There is a convenience to be able to communicate with them on a schedule change of some kind or possibly family information getting to them," Branum said. 

Click here to read the update from Branum.

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