WEST SPRINGFIELD — Cellphone pouches will click shut at the high school starting this fall.

West Springfield High School is now ready to implement the Yondr pouch system that the School Committee voted to fund in January, Principal Patrick Danby told the board on May 11. Because of delivery delays, the pouches only arrived recently, and he said it didn’t make sense to start a new policy with just a month or two remaining in the school year.

Under the policy set to take effect at the start of the 2024-25 school year, students will have to stow their electronic communications devices — cellphones, smart watches and others — in a magnetically sealed pouch during the school day. They will retain possession of the pouch as they move from class to class, but won’t be able to use their devices while they are locked in.

Danby said Yondr, the company that manufactures the pouches, will send representatives to the school for the first few days of the year, to help students and faculty learn the new system. The company has also provided letters in multiple languages to be sent to students’ homes in July, and the system will also be part of ninth grade orientation before school begins.

Danby said once students get used to the locking and unlocking procedure, he doesn’t think there will be long lines to enter and leave school.

Unlocking the pouch, Danby said, is like removing the theft-deterrence tags at a clothing store. The clasp on the Yondr pouch opens after being swiped by a magnet, he said. There will be multiple magnet stations at each school exit.

Students will keep the empty Yondr pouches with them, so that when they arrive at school the next day all they have to do is drop their phone into the pouch they already have ready, and seal it. Danby said extra pouches will be available at school entrances for those who forgot or misplaced their own pouch. There will also be storage areas where students can leave their phones for the day if no extra pouches are available.

“It takes no time to lock the phones, literally, it’s just a click,” Danby said. “There’s plenty of time in the morning for students to come in, put their phones in the pouch, and get breakfast.”

Danby acknowledged that “students, adolescents, it’s kind of their job to push the envelope.” He said the school will employ “progressive discipline” to those who sneak in a cellphone or unlock their pouches using their own magnets during the day. He said the faculty will be told to contact the school office as soon as they see a phone out, so there can be “a reaction from the administration immediately.” Danby said when teachers were asked whether the school should adopt a no-cellphones-in-sight policy, “it was close to 100% on board, saying this was a need.”

He also said that if any students have phones outside their pouches, but not visible in the classroom, then the pouch system will still have accomplished its ultimate goal, which is that students aren’t using their phones during class.

After School Committee member Kathleen Alevras mentioned that some people use apps on their phones for medical reasons — such as diabetics checking insulin levels — Danby said the Yondr system makes allowances for medical needs. Students who need access to their phones can be assigned a pouch with a Velcro clasp. They will still have to keep their phone in the pouch whenever not actively using it for medical reasons.

The Yondr pouch system is already in use at the C-TEC vocational education program. Danby said he’s heard from C-TEC administrators and from West Springfield students who attend the program that it works well.

Study won’t cost $500K

Next year’s study of elementary school facility needs will cost $250,000 or less, officials said, though the precise number will depend upon bids received in response to request for proposals.

“The mayor threw out a quote of half a million dollars, and that is double or perhaps more than what this RFP is,” said School Committee member Colleen Marcus.

“I was willing to spend it,” replied Mayor William Reichelt.

School Superintendent Stefania Raschilla said the study, to be led by an outside paid consultant leading a local volunteer committee, will look at “all the elementary schools,” including whether their buildings meet the needs of modern education practices and projected enrollment, what renovations might be needed, and “do we consolidate, do we not consolidate.”

A volunteer committee with a similar task in 2023 recommended closing Mittineague School, and based on their findings Raschilla also recommended replacing John Ashley Kindergarten and one or two of the other elementary schools with a single new building.

Following a petition drive led by Mittineague parents and alumni, the School Committee abandoned the closure plan. It did proceed with a proposal to replace John Ashley and Fausey School with a new building on the Fausey campus. That proposal has been sent to Boston to see if the state will provide reimbursement for construction costs.

mballway@thereminder.com | + posts