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Mount Greylock Super Asks for Cell Phone Ban
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:42AM / Friday, May 17, 2024
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional Schools' superintendent last week asked the School Committee to adopt a policy banning student cell-phone use in the district's three schools.
Jason McCandless last Thursday told the committee that his thinking about personal electronic devices in schools has evolved over the last year.
As recently as last spring, McCandless told the committee that he did not feel a ban was warranted. 
Now, he believes that no good comes from students using cell phones in school and, in fact, significant harm comes from the social media accessed on the devices.
In explaining the evolution of his position, McCandless said there is a connection to the district's efforts to create a more inclusive environment, efforts that were a major topic of discussion during the three-hour meeting.
"There is certainly a decent amount of racist, misogynistic, hateful in many of its forms material available online through various social media platforms," McCandless said. "I think we have kids saying things that they don't have any idea what it means because they have seen them in a video.
"From a civil rights perspective, from an anti-racist perspective, parents can't shield their kids from everything. … There's so much that we can't control, as educators, as leaders. This piece strikes me as something we can control. We don't allow students to bring knives into school. That's because they could hurt themselves, they could hurt others.
"I would struggle to see what good a student-owned mobile device is doing that student or the 200 other students in their school or 400 other students in their school or 600 other students in their school."
At one point, McCandless said that in addition to stopping students from having access to the devices, the district needs to do a better job of having the adults in the buildings model good behavior when it comes to cell phone usage.
He specifically said he does not want the district to acquire the bags sold by the company Yondr because kids have figured out how to get around the pouches designed to keep spaces phone-free. (Many Berkshire school districts have adopted the pouches, including North Adams, Hoosac Valley and McCann Technical.)
And he said there are issues to be worked out in each building about storage of cell phones during the day.
But he also emphasized that most of the classrooms have land lines, and students, as always, will have the ability to contact a parent by phone during the day if there is a specific need.
McCandless also said he envisions very narrow exceptions available for the use of personal electronic devices for medical or educational reasons for students on 504 plans or individualized education plans.
The majority of the student population at Lanesborough Elementary, Williamstown Elementary and Mount Greylock Regional School will be phone free to start the 2024-25 school year, if the policy is developed as quickly as McCandles hopes.
He asked the School Committee's Policy Subcommittee to meet over the next few weeks to develop language in time to have a draft policy before the full committee at its June 13 meeting. Committee practice is to do a first read of any policy changes where no action is taken and a subsequent vote to implement the change, if any, at the next meeting, currently scheduled for July 11.
Another change coming — at the middle-high school — for September 2024 is a decision not to have any new ninth-grade seventh-grade Latin instruction, reducing the number of world languages taught at Mount Greylock to one, Spanish.
McCandless said the decision to scale back world languages allows Mount Greylock to keep its other programs in place. Curricular changes were foreshadowed earlier this year during discussions of the fiscal year 2025 budget.
The superintendent said the district is committed to allowing students entering their sophomore, junior or senior years this fall to continue taking Latin through graduation. But depending on whether the school's one Latin teacher continues at Mount Greylock, those students could, at some point, be taking their world language class virtually.
At the elementary school level, the School Committee on Thursday took action to improve infrastructure on one of its two campuses..
It voted to award a contract not to exceed $951,451.24 to O'Brien and Sons to install new playgrounds at Williamstown Elementary School. The project will be paid in part by $300,000 from American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated by the Williamtown Select Board. The remainder will come from the proceeds of a capital renewal gift WES received from Williams College when the school opened in 2002.
Assistant Superintendent Joseph Bergeron told the School Committee that the proceeds of that gift ($1 million when originally granted) stand at about $1.9 million. After a $651,000 withdrawal to address the worn down and outdated playgrounds at the school, the district could still have enough to tackle its next big ticket "renewal" item, the interior floors, which have an estimated replacement cost between $750,000 and $900,000 Bergeron said.
He reminded the committee that the district hopes to get new roofs for both WES and Lanesborough Elementary School through the commonwealth's Green School Works program. And another piece of infrastructure in need of replacement at WES, the windows, would be eligible for funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority's Accelerated Repair Program.
Another potential use for the funds in the Williams gift to WES is refurbishment of the school's network and telecommunications infrastructure, Bergeron said.
As for the playgrounds, Bergeron said supply chain issues have delayed the delivery of the new equipment. So work cannot begin this summer as originally hoped; instead the district is targeting a spring 2025 start date.
In other business on Thursday, the School Committee:
Approved the annual overnight trip to Cape Cod for the sixth-graders at Lanesborough Elementary School.
 Approved two change orders for the field and track project, adding back into the project a concrete pad where the district someday could install bleachers and asphalt walkways to the field instead of gravel. Both improvements to the project are possible because of lower than budgeted costs elsewhere, and neither will raise the guaranteed maximum price from the contractor.
• Acknowledged and thanked the volunteers who helped Mount Greylock deal with the destruction of the visitors dugout at its baseball field from a microburst storm event this spring.
• Reappointed district treasurer Donna Neary and assistant treasurer Reena Sharma and authorized the administration's authority to take out short-term loans in anticipation of fiscal year 2025 revenue.
• And voted, 5-0-1, to support the eradication of poverty among children in the commonwealth. The anti-poverty resolution is one of 17 Massachusetts Association of School Committee resolutions set to expire in November.
Carolyn Greene, who has represented the Mount Greylock committee at MASC conventions in the past, brought the full list of expiring resolutions to the local committee's attention and asked that they immediately endorse the anti-poverty statement to support the resolution's readoption by the state association.
Steve Miller abstained from the vote, saying, "To me, the top priority we have to push for is to get the [state's] fiscal house in order. … I can't put this as a priority right now."
A seventh member of the committee, Christina Conry, was absent from last week's meeting.
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