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PPS students' phones are heading for locked pouches this school year

Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat explains the plan for locking cell phone pouches at a press conference Tuesday.
Collin Schopp
/
WCBU
Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat explains the plan for locking cell phone pouches at a news conference on Tuesday.

Peoria Public Schools District 150 is putting almost $250,000 into a step toward entirely cell phone-free classrooms.

At Monday night’s district board meeting, the board unanimously approved purchasing of up to 9,000 cell phone storage pouches from the company Yondr. The pouches lock automatically when their top is snapped together and can be unlocked by tapping the pouch against a magnetic base placed outside of “phone free zones.”

Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat clarified at a news conference on Tuesday the “phone free zone” will be the entire school day — from the moment students enter the school building until the moment their classes end.

Kherat said there already is a policy in place for phones to be turned off and put away across the district, but she sees too many when she visits the schools and receives complaints from educators.

“I get it, you know, students do not want to be separated from their phones, right?” she said. “So the fact that, you know, the locker might be way up on the third floor, you know, in a corner on the other side of the building. So they’re very, very far away from their phones. So I’m optimistic about this effort, because they’re going to be in possession of their phones.”

Without phones available as a distraction, Kherat expects improvements in student engagement, a drop in bullying, improved mental health and better academic outcomes. She said the district will be tracking all of these things to measure how successful the pouches are, though she already expects positive outcomes based on a pilot program with about 30 pouches in a district middle school in 2018.

However, Kherat expects some initial push back.

“I believe…attendance will be impacted, because some may not want to come to school for a couple of days because, you know, they want to play around with their phones,” she said.

A look at the grey and green Yondr pouches, and the magnetic base that unlocks them in the background. The pouches also have a slot for an identification card on the back, so students can track down lost pouches easily.
Collin Schopp
/
WCBU
A look at the grey and green Yondr pouches, and the magnetic base that unlocks them in the background. The pouches also have a slot for an identification card on the back, so students can track down lost pouches easily.

Chronic absenteeism and discipline are other areas she said may see initial issues after implementation of the pouches, but she expects those issues to level back out. Discipline is a facet of the plan. Kherat said students who refuse to store their phones, or are found circumventing the system, will receive gradually increasing punishments from reflection essays to in-school suspension.

Kherat also addressed parents wanting to get in touch with their children during the school day. She said emails would still work, parents could call the main office to establish communication with their kids and in emergency situations it is already the school’s responsibility to get in touch with parents.

“That’s the school’s function,” Kherat said. “To notify the families about those lockdowns. And I think we, you know, will continue to do that.”

The students also will be responsible for the well-being of their pouch, which Kherat said they will likely bring back and forth to school with them. Destroyed or lost pouches mean a $30 fee for the student to replace it. Kherat said the school will work with low-income families on getting the fees paid, but said the responsibility is no different than laptops or other equipment provided by the district.

“This is nothing new,” she said. “It’s just another one of those items we’re asking students and parents to take very seriously.”

Further details are expected to get fleshed out at a principal’s meeting on July 17. Kherat said principals will be developing specific plans for implementation based on the needs of their building.

Pouch manufacturer Yondr will provide training for district staff and communication materials on the new policies to send home with students and parents as part of the purchase of the pouches.

This all leaves a tight window for implementation — the new school year starts in early August.

“I’m not worried,” Kherat said. “We have a plan and we have lots of the draft steps, because we want buy-in from our principals and assistant principals. And in terms of the purchase, we can get those overnight. I wanted some samples for my board. And I called on Thursday, and on Friday I had 10 samples.”

You can find more information about Yondr and the pouches here.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.