When RoGina Montgomery picked up her son Micah after a school field trip in 2016 and asked him how his day went, the 2nd grader made a surprising revelation.
“He just went, ‘Oh yeah, I got left by the school and they had to come back and get me,’” Montgomery recalls now. “I was just shocked.”
Montgomery, disturbed that Micah was left alone with no way to reach her, emailed his teacher to say she’d be sending Micah to school with a cellphone, and that she wanted it to stay turned on and with him all day.
The request, though, went against the North Side elementary school’s cellphone policy — which required younger students to turn off their phones and leave them in their backpacks, and older students to hand in their phones to a teacher at the start of the day.
While educators say the phones are a distraction and can impede learning, for Montgomery, her son’s safety came first. And the school, which she declined to name, “didn’t have a leg to stand on because they left my son on a field trip,” she said. Her son was allowed to keep his phone.
Across Illinois and other states, debates over whether students should be allowed to bring smartphones to school — and whether they should be able to use them during the day — have heated up recently as more and younger kids have phones. Studies show that more than half of 5th and 6th graders, more than two-thirds of middle schoolers and more than 80 percent of high schoolers now have phones.
It’s also become an issue globally: French lawmakers passed a nationwide ban last year on phones in elementary and middle schools, while the Canadian province of Ontario is rolling out restrictions on phone use during instructional time this year.
No set policy in CPS
Chicago Public Schools doesn’t have a strict district-wide policy on cellphone use. The code of conduct says cellphones and other devices are not allowed at schools “unless approved by the principal.” In reality, the policy leaves it up to individual principals to establish the ground rules, a CPS spokeswoman said.
Jake Hirschtritt, a senior at Whitney Young Magnet High School on the Near West Side, said his school lets students keep their devices all day, but kids are supposed to be disciplined if caught using them during class.
But that rarely happens.
“Last period, a kid got caught with his iPad,” Hirschtritt said after school one afternoon earlier this week. “He was hiding it in his folder and was checking it during a lecture. Nothing really happened; the teacher just told him to put it away.
“Pretty much every class you’ll see kids on their phones,” Hirschtritt added. “It’s only sometimes a distraction during tests if sometimes it makes a noise. Otherwise, I don’t really find it much of a distraction.”
Banned in some suburbs
In the suburbs, several schools have enacted bans, including at Brooks and Julian middle schools in west suburban Oak Park.
A district spokeswoman said the district worked with parents and teachers to set “clear and consistent expectations for students in order to minimize distractions.” She described the cellphone policy, which requires students turn off their phones for the entire day, as “critical to creating positive learning environments that feature minimal distractions.”
At Oak Park and River Forest High School, parents were given a pamphlet at the start of the school year that read “social media is designed to addict” and noted sites like Instagram and Snapchat “leverage the very same neural circuitry used by slot machines and cocaine.” The high school said it would monitor the bans at the middle schools before solidifying a policy for next year, but noted that studies have found cellphone distractions cause lower grades and poor information retention.
Research published by the University of Chicago found that people of all ages can be distracted just by the presence of a phone, even if it’s turned off, flipped face down or put away. The study also found the presence of electronic devices in classrooms “may undermine both learning and test performance.”
Another study in the Journal of Communication Education found students who weren’t using phones in class “wrote down 62% more information in their notes, took more detailed notes, were able to recall more detailed information from the lecture, and scored a full letter grade and a half higher on a multiple choice test than those students who were actively using their mobile phones.”
Parents and educators are split on the topic.
Saro Loucks, whose daughter attends a CPS middle school and doesn’t have a phone, said kids “don’t need to be constantly informed or asked where they are or what’s going on and have constant connections to the internet.”
“It’s just ridiculous,” Loucks said. “I understand in emergencies when they need to contact their parents, but I don’t think it’s helpful to have them have access during the day. … Attention is a huge problem. There are so many kids with learning problems, and a distracting and addictive thing at their hands is just not a good idea.”
Helpful for kids with disabilities
Chris Yun, an education policy analyst at the local disability rights group Access Living, said the debate over cellphones in schools can often be boiled down to an accessibility issue. The uses can range from reading or writing assistance to diabetic students monitoring insulin levels.
Sheila Graven’s 18-year-old daughter, for example, uses a cellphone app to adjust her hearing aids while in class at Senn High School. The Edgewater school allows students to keep their phones during school, but they’re disciplined if they use the devices in class. Graven’s daughter has an exception, which is common for students with certain needs.
“She can control them to adjust the volume for different noise levels in the classroom,” Graven said. “She finds that very useful.”
Parents seek convenience
For other students and parents, like Montgomery and her son Micah, it’s as simple as needing to be able to communicate in certain situations.
“When I pick him up from school, if I’m running late, instead of calling school and hoping someone picks up, I’l just text or call him to let him know to wait in the office. It makes it so much easier,” said Montgomery, who uses an app to limit when and who her son can contact.
Patricia Barrios, whose son is a 5th grader at Little Village Academy, said the K-8 school allows younger students to keep their phones but requires 5th-8th graders turn phones in to a teacher, who stores them in a locker for the day.
Barrios, though, said she would prefer her 10-year-old son, Julian Martinez, to be able to keep his phone for both practical reasons, like when she is running late — and true emergencies.
“As we all see … all these tragedies that’s been going on in all these schools, I feel like it’s OK for these kids to have a cellphone so they can get in contact with their parents,” Barrios said.
Added Julian: “What if there’s an emergency like a fire?”
SCHAUMBURG, Ill. (WLS) — One person is in custody after an SUV crashed into the Sears at Woodfield Mall in Schuamburg and then drove through the shopping center Friday afternoon, police said.
While there were reports of an active shooter, police said no shooting occurred and there is no evidence there was ever an active shooter situation. Schaumburg police said no major injuries have been reported, only minor injuries.
Every entrance to Woodfield Mall has been blocked off by police as of 4:30 p.m.
Social media reports about the incident emerged on Twitter around 2:30 p.m.
Robert Fakhouri works at a tea shop in the mall. He said the suspect was arrested inside of his store.
“They brought him into my store and apprehended him in the store,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s because of the space inside and they had the room, and they were able to sit him down, or what happened.”
Fakhouri described the suspect as a younger man, possibly in his 20s, and said he was quiet and did not resist police during the arrest. He said the man answered the officers’ questions with yes or no answers, and did tell officers he was alone.
WATCH: Raw video of car driving through Woodfield Mall
He said the suspect appeared coherent, and displayed no remorse or emotion. He did not offer any explanation for what he allegedly did.
Fakhouri also said it appeared the suspect was attempting to hit the kiosks in the mall.
“There were plenty of kiosks, I think two or three of them that were specifically targeted by his route,” Fakhouri said.
Witness Lateef Farooqui said he was sitting in the food court at the time of the incident. He said that since the car crashed into the mall through the Sears, it had to drive directly under the second floor food court to get to the center aisle.
“As he went past that point everybody started running, saying ‘shooter, shooter,’ or ‘bomb,’ just panic,” he said.
Farooqui said he moved toward the second floor hallway above the center aisle to see what was going on and saw the tail end of the car, shattered glass at Forever 21 and the car bumper on the floor of the mall. As he approached further he said car parts were scattered through the center aisle all the way down to where one would turn toward Macy’s.
Farooqui said he wasn’t sure if the car was targeting any store in particular.
“Yeah, it was like a pinball going right to left,” he said. “I don’t know if it was like an anger issue going after Forever 21, but that one was the most obvious one he went through. And then he backed out of there and then moved to the complete opposite side.”
Anthony Uchick was shopping with his mother at the Sears in Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall Friday when he said a car crashed through the storefront and proceeded to drive through the shopping center. Uchick said the vehicle exited Sears near the Rainforest Café, almost striking children nearby. The car then crashed into Forever 21 before driving down toward Macy’s, where the suspect was caught, he said.
The Sears store is closed, according to a phone recording.
The FBI is assisting in the investigation at the request of local law enforcement, but said there is no known threat to public safety at this time.
An employee at Rainforest Cafe said the mall has been on lockdown.
This is a breaking news story. Check back with ABC7Chicago.com for updates.
NOTE: NBC 5 is live at the scene. Watch in the player above.
One person is in custody, Schaumburg police said, after a vehicle was driven into an entrance of Woodfield Mall Friday afternoon. Minor injuries were reported, the village’s spokeswoman said, and police continue to evacuate the mall.
“At this time, there is no evidence of an active shooter situation,” police said in a statement. “Police are on scene and the mall is in the process of being evacuated. Please avoid the area if possible. The investigation is ongoing.”
“At this time, no major injuries have been reported, only minor injuries,” Village of Schaumburg Allison M. Albrecht said.
Video Shows Vehicle Driving Through Woodfield Mall
FBI officials said they were assisting local law enforcement. There is “no known threat to public safety at this time,” the FBI said in a statement.
A massive police presence converged on the mall just before 3 p.m. after video showed a car driving through the inside of the popular suburban Chicago shopping center.
A video posted to social media indicated an SUV drove through the mall, causing damage as it went. Photos later showed police escorting a man in handcuffs out of the building.
Sky 5 Footage Shows Scene Outside Woodfield Mall
Sky 5 footage showed the vehicle appeared to enter the mall via the Sears store. It continued driving around inside before photos show it crashing near the Clarks.
The Schaumburg Fire Department confirmed it was responding to an incident at the mall Friday afternoon, fire officials said.
Sky 5 footage from the scene showed crowds and a heavy police presence outside. Witnesses reported the mall was on lockdown and customers were hiding in the back of stores.
“I was walking out of Express and I saw maybe like 30 people runnin,” witness Bijal Patel said. “I saw families carrying their children. I asked, ‘What’s going on?’ Someone said, ‘Run there’s a shooter! Get out of the mall!’”
Another witness, Brian Clark, said a security guard told her to “get out of the mall” and everything at the other end was being locked down.
“There are armed police going around on the lower level… so they’re checking the mall to make sure everything was secure,” he told NBC 5.
A witness, Jason, was ordering ice cream when he saw the car only a few feet away, moving erratically. He told his wife to get into the nearby Starbucks, and he ran to the SUV, which had crashed into a pole. He opened the door and took the keys out of the ignition.
He said the driver was young and appeared “dazed and confused.” At that point, police were able to take the driver into custody.
“He seemed to be trying to get as far as he could,” Jason said.
He and his wife got out of the mall and will be flying out of O’Hare airport to go home.
Lori Halfman was in the Sears store when the car crashed through the door. “It was very scary. I didn’t know what was happening. A worker starting yelling, ‘Everybody evacuate.’”
Another witness said the SUV almost hit a bunch of kids near the Rain Forest Cafe.
Police lead the driver, in handcuffs, from Woodfield Mall.
Witness Lateef Farooqui told CBS 2 that he was on the second floor when he saw a Chevy Trailblazer driving down the center of the mall “like you would a shopping cart.”
The driver appeared to be younger, Farooqui said. He drove over a kiosk and then hit the Forever 21. He then ran out of the SUV and was caught by police.
Photos provided to CBS 2 show people sheltering in the H&M store.
People shelter inside the H & M store at Woodfield Mall.
The owner of the Baskin Robbins ice cream store, Roger Thacker, was standing behind the counter when he heard a bang, which he believed was the SUV driving in the mall.
At the H&M about 35 people were sheltering inside and were not harmed.
“It was terrifying. It sounded like gunshots,” said one shopper, who took shelter at the H&M store.
The FBI’s Chicago office said it is aware of the incident and is assisting local law enforcement as requested. There is no threat to public safety, the FBI said.
Schaumburg police said there were no significant injuries.