City launches program to block social media during school hours

MADISON, Wis. — Four public schools in Wisconsin are preventing student access to some popular social media apps during the school day to test whether grades, student behavior and school safety improve with fewer online distractions.

The pilot program shuts down free Wi-Fi access to apps, including Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and 30 others, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The move is seen as a way to redirect impressionable students’ attention to learning and away from potential dangers.

“We are looking for ways to continually improve our school climate and increase student learning,” said Cindy Green, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Madison School District. “One way to do that is by trying to reduce the use of cellphones and social apps during the school day.”

The program began May 1 at East High School as well as Wright and Cherokee Middle schools. West High School is scheduled to start the program Monday.

“Our students who are the most disengaged are typically the ones who are stuck on their phones and walking the halls with their heads down,” East principal Mike Hernandez said. “I call it the zombie walk, and unfortunately it can lead to students making some poor choices on social media with Instagram or Facebook Live.”

The schools were selected due to their principals’ interest in the issue. District officials said that in meetings held before the program began, most students understood why classroom distractions needed to be decreased and that they appreciated the idea of clamping down on apps to prevent bullying.

But some reactions to shutting the system down haven’t been positive.

“Phones are a distraction to students during class, yet they are also a valuable resource to students communicating with peers and families without a data plan,” said Brigit Stattelman-Scanlan, a senior at East. “Having Wi-Fi shut off during school and then back on after school can solve some of these issues.”

The program will run through the end of the school year. Test results will include comparison behavior data and feedback from students.