The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee voted 7-1 Monday to allow the continued development of a new policy preventing nearly all student use of mobile phones during the school day.

The vote was a green light for principal Sara Dingledy and a team of high school staffers to finish crafting the policy, which they’re calling Away for the Day.

“We’ll plan to present what we’ve worked on over the summer at either an August meeting or a September meeting,” Ms. Dingledy told the school committee.

The new rules won’t officially go into effect until committee members vote on the final version for the updated high school handbook, which they are reviewing this summer.

In a group interview with the Gazette earlier this year, several teachers at the high school said unchecked use of personal laptops and phones has posed challenges in the classroom, as students play games, exchange messages and even cheat on tests and schoolwork.

English teacher Kathryn Hennigan, counselor Cheryl Taylor and information technology director Rick Mello — members of the team that has been developing the Away for the Day policy over the past year — joined Ms. Dingledy at Monday’s hybrid school committee meeting to outline how it will work.

In September, they said, each student will be issued a frequency-blocking neoprene pouch with a magnetic lock. 

Arriving at school, students will place their phones in the pouches, seal them at locking stations installed at the building’s four entrances and keep the pouches with them throughout the day.

Students will unseal their phones at the same stations when leaving school. 

Mr. Mello said locking/unlocking stations also will be installed aboard school buses, for students who forget to open their pouches at the building exit.

Key staff members will have hand-held locking/unlocking magnets to ease bottlenecks at the start and end of the day, Ms. Dingledy said, adding that she expects backups to be minimal.

“If you have the magnet, it literally takes one or two seconds to unlock it, and then they’re gone,” she said.

The magnets can be removed when locking stations are unattended, Mr. Mello said.

Students who need emergency access to their phones will be allowed to unlock them with staff permission, and parents who urgently need to reach their children can do so by calling the front desk, according to the plan.

“Just like during [a] fire drill, our responsibility is to know where your kids are,” Ms. Taylor said.

The school has held community forums and round table talks to gather parents’ and students’ thoughts on the Away for a Day policy, Ms. Dingledy said.

“This was a really good effort. Every Thursday we met with students who could sign up in flex [an unprogrammed time block],” she said. 

It was students who came up with the idea of putting locking/unlocking stations on the buses, Ms. Dingledy said. Students also suggested easing the rules for high school juniors, to match the school’s open lunch policy for seniors.

“[Seniors] can walk across to the food truck. They can unlock their phone during lunch. They can go out there if they choose to,” Ms. Dingledy said.

“I feel like that’s a privilege and a freedom that juniors should receive,” she said.

Parents have generally been supportive of the plan, the educators said.

“Families have been expressing for years, in conferences and all over, that they’d love it if their kids could disconnect a little bit,” Ms. Hennigan said.

Nonetheless, teachers are bracing for pushback when school opens in September.

“It’s going to be hard at first, until it’s acculturated,” said Ms. Dingledy, who acknowledged that the pouches are not tamper-proof.

“They can be hacked,” she said.

The entire high school staff will need to be on the alert for unauthorized phone use, Ms. Dingledy said.

“It’s going to be 5 per cent of all our jobs to make sure [compliance] happens,” she said.

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School already has the pouches, paid for by a state grant that is also supporting the switch to using only school-issued Chromebooks for student work, Ms. Dingledy said.

The rise of personal technology has been a struggle for districts and teachers hope the new policy will curb the urge to check screens throughout the day, resulting in a more focused education.

“They’re cognitively in two places at the same time,” Ms. Hennigan said. “We’re hoping to just give kids a break.”