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Hanover Schools Upgrade Phone System, Crack Down on Devices

A Pennsylvania school district is installing phones with emergency buttons that call 911 and send appropriate responders automatically, and requiring students to keep personal electronic devices in their lockers.

students cell phones
(TNS) — Hanover Area School District will require all student cell phones and personal electronic devices such as smart watches and computer pads be turned off and left in lockers during the school day this year, Superintendent Nathan Barrett announced Wednesday during a community meeting about the start of school and changes being made. The meeting was held via Zoom.

Noting he has four children himself and understands the desire to be able to get in touch with them, especially during emergencies, Barrett said the district did extensive review of behavior problems that increased in recent years and is working in various ways to reduce the causes so staff can spend more time teaching and less time dealing with behavior problems.

Cell phones, he said, are being used to take pictures of tests in the first period and shares with students taking the tests in later periods. They are used in committing plagiarism, and to take and post photos online to shame, belittle or bully others. Some students use them for online activities while they are supposed to be paying attention in class.

The purpose for the new policy, Barrett said, is "the time spent on students taking photos, starting websites, cheating on tests, having less than desirable activities, meeting in certain locations to fight, all these things were taking place through the communication of cellular devices, taking our administration constantly in the direction of 'if we eliminated the phone would this danger have happened, would that student have been injured in the stairwell where they set up a fight, would there be a photo online hurting a student's self esteem'."

Last year "202 cell phones were confiscated" following issues with bad behavior or online bullying.

To compensate for the phone policy, the district is launching a new app that will give parents "up to the minute" information specific to their children during emergencies. "If we are in lock down you will receive a text that everyone is safe in the classroom, that 25 of 25 students are there." If there is a fire drill, parents will be notified that all students left the building and are accounted for.

Barrett said he will set up a similar community meeting to explain details of the new app once all details are worked out.

Some photos taken by students have prompted changes in the dress code. Some students were posting photos of others online to ridicule them. Barrett said the big change "is yoga pants or stretch pants" will be banned.

"I do not want my staff to be determining what's too tight and what isn't. That's it. That's not our job, we are educators."

The district phone system is also being upgraded to be a "safety-oriented system." The phones have emergency buttons that go directly to 911 and prompt appropriate responders to be sent to a school even before a conversation is begun. By the time a conversation is finished as to what the issue is, they are already on their way," rather than waiting until the conversation ends.

And following bus incidents that prompted the district to suspend sending students to the Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center for several days last year, the district is changing transportation policies regarding CTC students. The big difference is that morning CTC students will return to Hanover Area for lunch, leaving the CTC at 10:30 a.m. On days with 2 hour delays, usually due to weather, CTC students will be picked up with regular students and wait at the high school to be transported to the CTC, rather than being picked up an hour later and taken to the CTC.

As he had mentioned at the Monday School Board meeting, Barrett noted the district will have armed guards at each school and is in the process of getting more metal detectors and installing security vestibules at each building.

Other items Barrett mentioned:

  • The district is beginning a seventh grade orientation to help students make the transition to the junior/senior high school, giving students a tour of the school and holding several sessions with parents regarding use of technology, support services for students and updates on policy changes such as the new cell phone policy and dress code. The orientation is Aug. 24 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

  • There will be a pre-kindergarten orientation on the same day from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

  • The district is launching a K-2 comprehensive literacy program to make sure students read at grade level by grade 3. Research shows students who are behind at that point often stay behind.

  • The attendance policy, designed to push attendance to 100 percent has specific thresholds. A student can have up to 10 parent-excused absences, but anything beyond that requires a medical exemption. A student is deemed chronically absent with 18 or more absences, or 10 percent of the school year. Students must keep absence below the 10 percent threshold to participate in extra-curricular activities. And parents or guardians will receive correspondence from the district after three or more absences, to keep them aware of the issue. "It's not anything punitive."

  • New "trust mapping" will be implemented to help find out what students need what support. "Is it 100 percent accurate? No. But this district does not sit back and wait for that to happen." And if students are found who need help, support groups, social workers, school based behavioral teams and outpatient therapy will be made available as needed.

  • Network system upgrades include a filtration system that monitors student online activity on district computers to alert teachers when a student is off task. The feature will be available to parents at home, with an ability to set the level of filtration. Network speed has been dramatically increased.

©2022 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.