Lenox schools curb use of phones to reduce distraction

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Photo Gallery | No cell phones at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School

LENOX — As about 760 students returned to their classrooms to ring in the public school year on Wednesday, middle- and high schoolers were greeted by a doubled-down policy on use of cellphones during scheduled instruction time.

In a message to the school community, Lenox Memorial Middle and High School Principal Michael Knybel reminded students and parents that "cellphones and other personal electronic devices are not permitted for any reason during the school day."

That guidance also is stated in the district's Code of Conduct and Handbook issued to each student on the first day.

Last May, a screening of the documentary "Screenagers" on the perils of electronic overdosing yielded a lively discussion among students and parents. More than 100 attended the showing of the widely praised film.

"The consensus was in favor of a consistent cellphone policy banning the use of cellphones in the classroom," Knybel said.

The film cited research that found high-schoolers average 6.5 hours a day on devices. Knybel promised new policies following further discussion within the school community. He pointed out that "we've seen an increased use, this year more than ever, not only in high school but more than ever in our lower grades."

In an interview on Wednesday, Knybel said it would be unenforceable to ban student phones from the school building.

"We can police the classrooms, teachers can supervise students and have them put their cellphones away," he said, noting that in some rooms, phones are stored in shoe racks hanging on closet doors.

As for phone use in the middle- and high school hallways and other common areas such as the cafeteria, Knybel said "it's hard to punish the ones we catch and not the ones we don't catch."

Enforcement is the major challenge in the major social areas such as the cafeteria at lunchtime, he said. "We don't want to cause anyone to be upset," he said.

The principal pointed out that some students use devices to record homework and class project deadlines, and they are given a specific time during the class period to access their phones.

"We're guiding students to use them as a work tool, but not for social media," Knybel said. "We will negotiate with students and parents for a more comprehensive policy in the building during non-classroom times."

The School Council and a student volunteer committee to be formed soon will offer input.

Meanwhile, preliminary enrollment trends show a 4 percent uptick from the 2015-16 final total of 730 students, though schools Superintendent Timothy Lee noted that the figures tend to fluctuate during the first days of the school year. School districts report their official figures to the state Department of Education on Oct. 1.

Based on previous projections, about 38 percent of the 440 students at the middle and high school and 320 at Morris Elementary are enrolled under school choice, including many from Pittsfield. In several grades, the school choice ratio approaches or slightly exceeds 50 percent.

School Committee recommendations include a cap of 40 percent districtwide and 50 percent in a specific grade.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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