THORNDALE, Texas (KXAN) — One Central Texas school district will require students to lock up their phones during the school day in a “magnetically sealed pouch,” its superintendent wrote in a letter to parents.
Thorndale ISD, which is located in Milam County, will start the policy in the next school year at Thorndale middle and high schools. The district has about 600 students, according to state data.
The program, called Yondr, requires students to secure their phones in a personal pouch that they will keep with them during the day. Students must bring the pouch to and from school daily. When students leave school, they tap the pouch to an unlocking base to access their phones, smart watches and wireless earbuds.
In the letter, Superintendent Adam Ivy wrote district staff members visited another ISD to see how it used the Yondr program. They spoke with teachers who said engagement is better, distractions are fewer and cyberbullying and cyber safety issues were “almost…non-existent,” the letter said.
When it comes to lockdowns, parent-student communication and other scenarios, Ivy wrote the Texas district said: “that they had found no credible reason not to implement the program and that the benefits have completely outweighed any growing pains.”
The letter’s frequently asked questions section said law enforcement believes it safer for students to refrain from using devices in emergency situations. But the district is working on a plan for when devices are necessary for lockdown situations.
Students who do not follow school rules will face $15 fines on each offense and suspension days based on the number of offenses.
“We have spent a lot of time discussing this and trying to play devil’s advocate to look for holes in the system,” Ivy wrote. “After much thought, prayer and discussion we believe that this will absolutely be in the best interest of our students’ education, health and safety, which is the litmus test we use for all such decisions.”
The letter also said elementary students will not use the Yondr program but instead use a different, unnamed system.
Thorndale ISD students go back to school Aug. 17.
What happens if there is an emergency?
The district said, in case of an emergency, teachers can call out on classroom phones and the pouches can be cut open if needed.
A parent in the district, who wished to remain anonymous, told KXAN she was concerned that, by not allowing students to have easy access to their phones, there could be issues, especially if there is an active shooter or another emergency.
“While we don’t think they should be out during class, having them locked up creates more of a safety hazard,” the parent said.
While there are some who have concerns, district leaders said they’ve heard from parents who are happy about the change.
“In the event of a shooting, we need our kids focused on the teachers and what is going on as much as possible. We don’t need them on social media and making phone calls or making noise.”
Thorndale ISD Superintendent Adam Ivy said safety is their top priority. A few years ago the district did not have secure entry points, but now he’s changing that.
This year they added secure locking systems to all of the doors at their schools
“If you pull that door shut, it’s locked,” Ivy said.
New cameras have also been added.
“We have added a really great camera system that is web-based and it allows us to go in and view things on our phones in a split second,” said Ivy.
The district also has the Guardian Program which allows teachers to carry a gun.
“We have a group of people, we don’t tell anyone who they are or how many there are, but we have added to that program this year,” said Ivy.