Should Mt. Hope High School become a phone free zone?

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 1/25/24

Mt. Hope High School has been investigating ways to keep phones away during school hours so that students can focus on being students. Police say, despite commonly held beliefs, such a policy could also be beneficial in case of an emergency.

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Should Mt. Hope High School become a phone free zone?


The potential harm resulting from overuse and abuse of social media by adolescents is well-documented, and the arguments against students having unfettered access to devices like phones and smart watches are persuasive.

The benefits, including increased academic performance and engagement, better sleep quality, and reduced anxiety and depression, are just as well documented.

Just last year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a public warning about the risks of social media to young people, citing a "profound risk of harm" to adolescent mental health and urged families to set limits and governments to set tougher standards for use.

Accordingly, Mt. Hope High School’s administration has been investigating ways to enact a readily enforceable way of keeping phones away during school hours so that students can focus on being students. One such method is smart phone and watch locking devices, which have been gaining traction in recent years in schools as well as entertainment venues, weddings, and events. Yondr is an industry leader in that space, offering a pouch that allows students to retain their phone during the course of the day, though it is locked and inaccessible. At the end of the school day, students can unlock their pouches on the way out the door.

On Thursday, Jan. 18, MHHS Principal Michelle King hosted an open, virtual community conversation that included the school safety team, administrators, members of the School Committee, teachers, parents, and students.

“This is a growing and rapidly increasing problem,” said King. “And it's not just a Bristol Warren problem, it is nationwide…our students are suffering the consequences of this addiction that they have. Addiction is what I'm calling it, because the students are struggling.”

King shared the results of a school-wide survey that revealed that 80% of MHHS faculty reported their students are distracted by their phones and devices, even while 80% of students insist they are not.

“We know that it is impacting our kids academically and emotionally, and we know that there are safety concerns,” King said.

“Phone-free schools feel different,” said Andrew Richards of Yondr, who offered a brief presentation on how the Yondr pouches work and what the impact has been on schools that have adopted a phone-free environment.
“One of my favorite parts of this job is to see how impactful it really is on students,” Richards said. “You can expect to see some some very positive changes happen very quickly.”

Yondr is currently being used in over 3,000 schools, serving over a million students, with nearly 600 of those schools in the northeast, including several large urban districts.

“We have the capacity and the logistical ability to to do this on on a district level,” said Richards. “And we have seen that once you take the smartphone out of the equation, it makes the school day a lot easier not only for the students but also for the faculty and staff.”

Studies also show an increase in instructional time and an improvement in positive social interactions, as well as learning and engagement.

Public safety weighs in
Speaking as both a parent and a public safety officer, Bristol Police Lt. Steven St. Pierre was clear that in the final analysis, cell phones do not belong in classrooms.

“The impression that [cell phones] increase safety is not the reality,” he said. “When we look at response to active threats or natural disaster threats or civil unrest threats or any impending crisis that might impact the scholastic setting, the use and possession of cell phones does not enhance the student safety in any measure and actually…inhibits the safety and mitigation plans for those crises rather than increasing the safety of the students.”

He offered local examples where the presence of cell phones worked against enhancing student safety. In one instance, just last year, a group of students seeking to create dysfunction in the school called in a threat.

“Most of the students received that threat and passed that threat along to other students within the school with their cell phones while they were in class,” St. Pierre said.

The threat was not real, but according to St. Pierre it disrupted the entire student body for a protracted period of time while law enforcement and school officials followed the existing plan for how to deal with a threat on campus.

“Whenever we're dealing with those types of situations, the school has plans in place that have been worked out in advance with the district and law enforcement agencies,” St. Pierre said. “For those plans to the effective they call for very rapid and immediate conveyance of information to law enforcement through predictable and reliable sources to initiate a predictable and reliable response.”

According to St. Pierre, the presence of cell phones can negatively affect police response when, instead of students rapidly engaging with the emergency plan and following it, they would be bombarding dispatchers with calls and information that may not be accurate.

“What that it is doing is slowing down their response time,” he said. “It's stopping them from initiating the safety plans that the staff and the faculty need them to initiate to keep the rest of the student body and themselves safe.”

Reaction mixed from parents and students
Several parents and students weighed in with concerns about the application and impact of a phone-free policy on students with special needs ranging from ADHD to anxiety disorders.

“I have a child that has ADHD and listening to music is something that actually helps him focus better,” said one parent. “So if he's not able to access his phone, is that something that we can accommodate through another device so that he may be able to use that in school?”

“My daughter loves her art classes because it gives her an opportunity to put her headphones on and listen to the music that she likes that helps her stimulate the creative juices,” said another. “I’m in favor of this plan more or less but I think that there are times that we need to make exceptions and I would love it if your plan involves ways to help students use their phones when it's useful to them and not harmful.”

Another parent was truly conflicted, commenting that she has one student with anxiety who reaches out during the day as a safety net and another student with ADHD who would benefit from a phone-free environment. One student said that her anxiety is such that socializing through her phone is often the extent of what she is comfortable with; another suggested that the Yondr system would create a safety hazard in its application, as students would be trampled in the melee resulting from the rush to unlock their phones at the end of the day.

Another parent questioned what would happen in the event of the worst-case scenario, an active shooter in the building.

“If we're relying on students to contact 911, our system has totally broken down and we have failed and we have much bigger problems than the students having access to their phones,” said St. Pierre. “That’s probably the least likely event to happen, as opposed to a natural disaster or an environmental crisis or some type of behavioral crisis within the school.”

Richards confirmed that if it is absolutely necessary, in a true emergency, to open the pouch, classroom scissors will be up to the task.

King confirmed that this was the first of many discussions, and that there would be many more. The earliest that such a policy would be implemented, if the school does decide to make MHHS a phone-free space, would be the 2024-2025 academic year.

“We still have work to do on this, which is why we're still in the information gathering and sharing phase,” said King. “This is this is a big process; it isn't something that we can do overnight.”

Lt. St. Pierre is happy to share a power point containing the relevant school safety data with anyone who is interested. He can be reached at the Bristol Police Department at 401-253-6900. For more information on the Yondr system, visit

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