Education Beat: Flint Schools start 2024 with new board president, two new rules for students, remodeled website

By Harold C. Ford

Flint Community Schools (FCS) moved into 2024 with a new Flint Board of Education (FBOE) president, two new rules for students that ban possession of cellphones and hoodies, and a newly-remodeled website.

President, vice president switch chairs; secretary and treasurer incumbents return to positions

Joyce Ellis-McNeal was chosen the FBOE’s new president at the board’s annual organizational meeting Jan. 10. McNeal had served as the FBOE’s vice president during 2023.

(Photo source: FCS website)

Two board members were nominated for the FBOE’s top spot: McNeal was nominated by Claudia Perkins; Terae King was nominated by Michael Clack.

Voting for McNeal on the seven-person panel were: McNeal; Perkins; Dylan Luna; and Laura MacIntyre. Votes for King came from: King; Clack; and Melody Relerford.

Two board members were nominated for vice president: Clack was nominated by MacIntyre; King was nominated by Relerford.

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Clack received votes from: Clack; Luna; MacIntyre; Perkins; and McNeal. Votes for King came from: King; and Relerford.

Thus, Clack and McNeal switch chairs on the panel as Clack had served as FBOE president in 2023.

Claudia Perkins was the only nominee for the secretary position that she held in 2023.  All seven FBOE members voted for Perkins who was nominated by Luna.

Luna was the only nominee for the treasurer position that he held in 2023; he was nominated by MacIntyre. All seven FBOE members voted for Luna.

Finally, MacIntyre – nominated by Luna – was returned to her assistant secretary/treasurer position by a 7-0 vote.

FCS bans student use of cell phones and hoodies

Earlier at its Dec. 13, 2023 meeting, the FBOE adopted two significant changes to the FCS Student Code of Conduct. The changes – imposing a ban on student use of cellphones and the wearing of hoodies starting in calendar year 2024 – were both adopted by a unanimous 7-0 vote of board members.

Public statements at the Dec. 13 meeting indicated that the bans received virtually unanimous support from the leaders of most constituent groups within the FCS community: central administration; Congress of School Administrators (building-level administration); the United Teachers of Flint; and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 517. Even the student council at Southwestern Academy backed the measure.  A sampling of comments:

  • Ernest Steward, FCS director of student services: “Both of these requests are for the safety of our children … They [cell phones and hoodies] are causing so many problems … It’s constant, every day … It’s a fight you continue to have with students … [It] takes up manpower and time …It also becomes [instances of] insubordination every single time and now we’re suspending students for hoodies, constantly … This [changes in the student code] is the result of them [some students] not being responsible.”

    Ernest Steward, FCS director of student services (Photo source: Flashintel)

  • Anupa Shantaram, school improvement coordinator: Shantaram spoke of a “typical day of how these students are misusing their cellphones … The minute they get past that [metal detectors at school entrances] the earbuds go back in, the phones go back on, and they’re constantly distracted by their cellphone. I cannot tell you how many calls I get from teachers who are saying that the kids are on their phones.” Shantaram spoke of “premeditated conversations that encourage fights.”
  • Kevelin Jones, superintendent: “There was fights … a three-hour lockdown because of cellphone conversations … [Cellphones] is a big part of bullying … a big part of why scholars are not on task in class.” Additionally, Jones reminded FBOE members that FCS provides coats and other winter garments for students that substitute hoodies for winter coats. He advised that, “Students are using their hoodie as a measure to not get caught in their behaviors … It’s causing us not to be able to identify students … It was happening too often that kids were going to other bus stops with their hoods on and assaulting kids.”
  • McNeal, a former educator: “They [cell phones and hoodies] are such a distraction … when you have 20-something, 30-something kids in a classroom.
  • Clack, also a former educator: “When you go into Southwestern and you see a wave of kids with hoodies on, it makes you start to think, ‘Is this a professional learning environment?’”
  • Luna, another former educator: “Cellphones in classrooms tend to be a distraction … The teacher oftentimes is constantly addressing this issue and it takes away from classroom management and student learning … Some kids will begin this bullying behavior in the classroom.”

Strong voices of dissent and support

Following a soliloquy of nonsupport for the bans by MacIntyre, Relerford rallied some wavering board members to support for the administration’s proposals. It was arguably Relerford’s most discernable and effective moment of clarity and leadership in her one-year tenure as a member of the Flint panel. Following her comments, the FBOE voted unanimously in support of the measures.  Snippets of their comments:

  • MacIntyre: “I understand putting your phones away during the school day … [but] I’m a little dismayed; I didn’t think it [the ban] was so draconian. I don’t like treating our students this way … This is school-to-prison pipeline stuff … That’s a horrible look … We’re doing our students a disservice.”
  • Relerford: “You all [FCS educators] are in the buildings … I will not dare stand in the way and say ‘no’, because, God forbid, something happened and we didn’t do anything, because it sounds like kids communicate trouble in the building. We do know there’s a gang issue and that’s their way of communicating … It’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen, it’s a matter of when … It sounds like this administration took their time and communicated with everyone they needed to speak to and now we want to nitpick it and pick it apart.”

Support for cellphone bans

 Evidence of the deleterious effects of cellphone use in schools on student performance is growing and leading to bans by school districts in Michigan, across the nation, and in other countries.

The London School of Economics reviewed the test performances of 130,000 student in 91 schools in the United Kingdom and concluded that scores on a national exam had improved six percent following the [cellphone] ban. The scores of underachieving students improved by 14 percent. 

Research by the University of San Diego (SDU) found that students frequently on cellphones were two times more likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety compared to low-level users.  Jean Twenge, SDU professor, reports, “There is a full-blown mental health crisis among young people, and it was building long before the COVID-19 pandemic.” The study points to the ubiquitous use of social media as one cause of the “crisis.” 

Reports by the Washington-based PEW Research Center found that 95 percent of American teens age 13 to 17 use electronic media “almost constantly.” Some teens are on their phones nearly nine hours daily. 

“By 2010, more than 90 percent of schools in the U.S. prohibited student cellphone use during school hours,” according to a report by the New York Times based on federal data.  That percentage, which had dipped in recent years, is growing again. 

Bridge Magazine reports numerous school districts in Michigan have adopted varying bans on cellphone use including: Ionia Public Schools; Grosse Pointe Public School System; Plymouth-Canton Community Schools; Saginaw Public Schools; and Forest Hills Central High School in Grand Rapids.

Forest Hills Superintendent Dan Behm stated, “The regularity of cellphones disrupting a student’s ability to focus on something is as damaging as having a loud noise, a train engine, randomly disrupting instruction in the classroom.”

Elsewhere, the British government is implementing a prohibition of cellphone use in schools. Italy banned cellphones during lessons; China barred children from taking phones to school three years ago.

Revamped FCS website

The FCS website has been dramatically upgraded with new, up-to-date information, enhanced graphics, and more color.

An October 2021 review of the website by East Village Magazine revealed “sparse and inaccurate information” and other woefully outdated details. Individual webpages of “FCS buildings were in similar stages of development, or lack thereof.”

Management of the website by Lambert, a pricey, out-of-town public relations firm was frequently the target of searing criticism by then-FBOE Treasurer MacIntyre. According to MacIntyre, the monthly charges assessed the school district totaled nearly $10,000 each month.

Interested persons can visit the enhanced FCS website and explore the improvements for themselves.  (Most of the graphics included in this report were taken from the FCS website.)

* * * * *

FBOE meetings in the first half of 2024: Jan. 10 (annual organization meeting), 17; Feb. 14, 21; March 13, 20; April 10, 17; May 8, 15; June 12, 19 (annual budget hearing).  All meetings start at 6:30 p.m. at Accelerated Learning Academy, 1602 S. Averill Ave., Flint, MI 48503. Meetings can be accessed online at YouTube; visit the FCS website for information.

EVM Education Beat reporter Harold C. Ford can be reached at

Author: Tom Travis

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