By Christopher Selmek, Urbana Daily Citizen
Champaign County students return to school next week and will find new policies in place.
Students at Urbana City Schools begin class on Thursday, except for kindergartners experiencing a staggered start. A new policy states students will have no cell phones or other personal communication devices from 7:35 a.m. to 2:37 p.m., except for lunch period.
According to Superintendent Charles Thiel, this is the first year that all high school students will be issued a Chromebook device, eliminating the need for each student to have a personal device during school hours. Thiel said the high school day has been extended by a few minutes to 2:37 to accommodate buses coming from the middle school.
“With the issues we were having with cellphones and students doing inappropriate things and causing a distraction, we thought it would be better to restrict their use during the school day,” he said. “Students will be allowed to use their cell phones in the cafeteria during their lunch period, but the rest of the time they need to be stored in their lockers before first period.”
This policy is the same for all grade levels, although Thiel said there have been no problems with students using cell phones at the elementary level. The change is being made to encourage academic engagement and minimize social issues. Parents are welcome to communicate important information to the school office that can be relayed to students when necessary.
The new cell phone policy at Urbana City Schools is similar to the policy at Triad Local Schools, where all students were issued Chromebooks last year. The Triad policy is different only in that high school students can have cell phones in class as long as they are turned off. Middle school students must keep them in their lockers. Superintendent Vickie Hoffman said the policy will be unchanged this year, and that the first day of school on Tuesday will include some sign-offs for equipment.
Urbana City Schools has modified bus routes with the new Transfinder system that electronically maps every student’s address and bus stop to create more efficient routes. There are now 12 regular bus routes, each with 15-20 stops in the country or five or six in the city.
Thiel said seven or eight buses were double-routed last year, meaning that in the afternoon buses would take elementary school students who lived in the city back to their bus stops, then return to the school to pick up another busload of students who lived outside the city. Students who lived farther from the school were at the school for 15-20 minutes more in the morning and in the afternoon than their peers who lived closer to the school.
“Some of these bus routes are also consolidated so that the total bus route is shorter than what it was in the past, which means kids are typically riding for shorter times,” Thiel said. “We’re increasing the efficiencies so that we have fuller buses so there’ll be more kids on the bus than what we had in the past.”
Most school buses can transport 72 passengers if there are three students in each seat, which Thiel said means that one bus can realistically take 55-60 students. This year, he said, only three elementary school routes are double booked, reducing the time students wait at the school before they can get home. Due to the Transfinder system creating more efficient bus routes, Thiel said, the district has eliminated 50-60 hours of driver time every week, or about 10,000 miles a year.
Graham Local Schools opens Tuesday and the district continues to have group bus stops throughout the district for high school students, a policy the district started last year. According to interim Superintendent Matt Curtis, this model provides group stops strategically located to reduce transportation time and distance for parents and guardians while reducing costs, rather than go to a state minimum transportation model, which would have required parents and guardians to provide transportation or for students to self-transport.
To check bus stop locations and bus stop times, visit the Graham Local Schools webpage and click on “Transportation” under the Departments tab.
Curtis noted several personnel changes in the district. Former Graham Elementary School assistant principal Lynnette Roeth will become the principal, while the new assistant principal will be Brooke Hoblit, coming from a teaching position at National Trail Schools in New Paris. Former Graham Middle School assistant principal Nick Guidera will become the principal there, while Emily Shreve become the assistant principal, moving from a teaching position at Graham Elementary.
Mechanicsburg Exempted Village School District students will begin class on Wednesday. Students in the West Liberty-Salem Local School District will begin school Sept. 3.