Christina held its second community town hall of the school year Tuesday night.

Christina town hall: phones, bullying, dress code, SATs

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Entertainment

Christina held its second community town hall of the school year Tuesday night.

Christina held its second community town hall of the school year Tuesday night.

In the Christina School District’s second town hall this school year Tuesday night, the handful of  community members that showed up brought concerns of cell phone use, school bullying and test prep. 

The goal of the meetings is to allow Christina residents to interact with the district’s board of education.

It’s a unique arrangement because in monthly meetings, the board is not allowed to respond or interact with those that give public comment. 

Dress code

Lane Carter, a teacher at Newark High School, first spoke about concerns of cell phone usage. She wants to see privacy rules put into place so students cannot video record and share videos of other people in the building. 

Carter also said she was concerned about the dress code, mainly with students covering their faces.

She said it’s hard to identify those that have face coverings, and said it makes it hard for attendance reasons and also in the case of an emergency.

“We would recommend a policy that would include no hats, no hoods, no ski masks and no medical masks without a medical note,” she said. 

Phones and gambling

John Schmidt, director of youth prevention services at Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, spoke first at the town hall.

In his role, Schmidt goes to schools throughout the entire state and talks to children about developing a healthy relationship with phones, social media, video games and helps them understand how it impacts their lives, mental health, relationships, grades and more.

He’s been working with Christina schools for more than five years.

“What I’ve seen, specifically since COVID, has been a significant deterioration in the attention that is paid in classrooms to active instruction because of the presence of phones in classrooms,” he said. “It impacts some of the same reward regions of our brains as other addictions that we’re pretty familiar with like heroin, alcohol, crack cocaine, marijuana, things like that.”

He sees a lack of support from the top down of district employees to address this issue, and he realizes some of it might be because of all the other policies they are trying to enforce, but he called it “lethargic.”

“We need to come up with a very common sense solution because we are normalizing nonsense and it’s at the expense of our kids, at the expense of their ability to learn and succeed and grow in their academic process in the middle and high school years,” Schmidt said, “and it’s something I just see as becoming more and more of a threat.”

The school board seemed very interested in receiving some of Schmidt’s research he’s done for the council on gambling problems. 

Schmidt confirmed that it’s a national problem and there’s plenty of data to provide on the negative effects of cell phone use in school, and really, how the abundance of any screen time is affecting their behavior. 

The board questioned what support Schmidt would like to see since he stated it was lacking.

The main problem, Schmidt says, is there’s not enough accountability, all the way from the superintendent down to the hall monitors, of enforcing the student code and addressing infractions. 

Schmidt said successful schools have a back-pack policy where cell phones must be in a student’s backpack at all time throughout the day. 

Another idea is the Yondr Pouch which Colonial School District uses, which is a pouch that students get when they enter a class that seals their phone with a little “hole lock” that can only be unlocked on a base when they leave the class or school.

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Board member Claire O’Neal said this could be an opportunity to bolster the cell phone policy in the student manual.

Y.F. Lou, a board member, said the effects of attention that phones have on a developing brain can be very negative and impactful.


A day after the Student Behavior and School Climate Task Force reviewed statewide suspension data, parent Andrew Walra told the board of an ongoing situation with his nine-year-old daughter.

RELATED: School behavior group wants more funding for specialists

First, he said there’s no mention of “zero tolerance” in the student manual for bullying. 

His daughter was previously pushed by a fourth-grade boy, and most recently, she was punched on the playground by the boy.

“​​Imagine as a parent, having a phone call that your child was punched in the face,” Walra said. “I immediately saw all types of red.”

He said it’s wrong that the first priority he heard from the school was to make sure the boy’s emotional wellbeing was in check, rather than making the priority to punish the child and making sure his own daughter was OK.

“I don’t see how my daughter, being the victim, has to take a backseat to his actions and his possible distress when he was the one that created this situation,” he said. 

He also said it’s wrong that when working with school leadership, a possible solution suggested was to move his daughter to another class. Again – he said, that punishes the victim.

Another problem he had was not addressing students with repeated incidents of the same negative behavior. 

Patton thanked Walra for his dedication and passion to make sure his daughter is in a safe learning environment.

He also connected him with a district director and promised there would be contact made and a solution found as soon as possible. 

Patton also said he’ll make sure the board follows this specific case and receives updates to make sure it is resolved.

Alethea Smith-Tucker, a board member, said Walra’s incident is part of a larger topic concerning Delaware schools – which has become evident with the Delaware General Assembly now paying closer attention to student discipline. 

She said these incidents have a direct impact on physical and mental health, and she’s lobbying for the district to create a committee to focus on these behavioral incidents with human services, behavioral health employees, community partners, and safety and security personnel like school resource officers and constables.

“The district bears a huge responsibility for shaping the emotional wellness and well being of our students,” she said. 

SAT Prep 

Carter talked about the lack of resources to prepare students for the SAT. 

She suggested the district contract Khan Academy, an online website that provides tutoring programs for various subjects and tests. 

“It’s a low-cost solution for students, and there’s a program that is free as well,” she said. “We are going to try and run a pilot program this coming year. We have a lot of support from our admin, but I’ve put the notes on there for you to peruse, but I’m just most interested in helping the 11th graders, so we would want to prep them in ninth and 10th, perhaps in their study halls.”

Smith-Tucker pointed out that Khan Academy is very geared towards school districts so it likely won’t be cost prohibitive. 

Carter confirmed it’s about $5 per student. 

There were about eight speakers in total Tuesday. 

“We’re moving with an aggressive plan to change the landscape of our schools,” Patton said, “and it starts with the idea of being bottom-up, not top-down. It starts with understanding. We’re pumping a whole bunch of money into the district office, with staff and other things, when we should be pumping them into our schools. This should be about student outcomes.”

He said it’s important the district is transparent and held accountable. 

It is unclear if or when the next town hall will be for the 2023-2024 school year.

“It’s been an honor to come before our community and have these conversations,” Smith-Tucker said. “Low pressure, a lot different than our traditional board meetings, so I hope that we continue to have more and more town halls like this.”

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