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Council nixes charter school cell phone plan

July 24, 2018
Lehigh Acres Citizen

A request to spend more than $14,000 to prevent municipal middle schoolers from using their cell phone while at school was soundly rejected by Cape Coral City Council on Monday.

The elected board voted 6-0 to deny the Cape Coral Charter Schools' plan to address the problem of student cell phone use by buying magnetic pouches to prevent service.

The Charter School Authority was looking to enter into a lease agreement with Focally, a company that makes Yondr pouches. Officials planned to have students at Oasis Middle School put their cell phones into the pouches at the start of the school day. The pouches would then be locked and the phone would be unable to be used for the rest of the school day.

According to a memo from the Charter School Authority, the students would have possession of the phone which could be unlocked in the event of an emergency. The Wall Street Journal said more than 600 schools are using the pouches with success.

The Charter Schools were looking to spend $14,050 for the pouches for all 850 students who attend Oasis Middle School, up to 90 percent of whom bring cell phones to school.

Donnie Hopper, Oasis Middle School principal, with the help of charter school superintendent Jacquelin Collins, said that simply telling them to put their phones away no longer works.

"Kids go to the rest rooms or use their phones under their desks. You can see how this is disruptive," Hopper said. "Oasis has been an 'A' school for 10 years. This is how we can change the culture by eliminating the use of cell phones. Even having the phone next to them inhibits learning."

Council members were not so sure. Councilmember Rick Williams pulled the consent item for discussion and said the idea gave him heartburn, and that the schools should use old-fashioned discipline.

"I don't think this will do the job. Just tell them they can't use the phone. I can see the kids just unlocking the phones," Williams said. "Teachers run the classrooms, if they say they can't use phones they shouldn't use them."

Councilmember John Carioscia said teachers should offer other forms of punishment for cell phone misuse.

"Why not confiscate the phones and set up a meeting with the parents the first time and suspend them the second. A no-tolerance policy would stop it," Carioscia said. "A meeting is cheaper than $14,000 in pouches."

Cell phones and social media have become a major obstacle for learning as they create distraction and even mental health issues in students, Collins said.

During pubic comment, Dan Sheppard said his daughter was a Lee County school teacher but left because her hands were tied when it came to disciplining students who abused the use of cell phones.

Councilmember Marilyn Stout was intrigued by Hopper's argument and gave it consideration. Still, two council members who might have had sway on the argument, council/charter school liaison Jennifer Nelson and her predecessor, Jessica Cosden, were both absent and the motion to deny passed 6-0.

In other business City Council:

* Appointed seven members and two alternates to the nuisance abatement board;

* approved a resolution to adopt an action plan for the Community Development Block Grant Entitlement Program;

* agreed to represent the city at the annual Police Law & Order Ball, and

* approved designating $40,000 to Good Wheels.



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