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Should students be allowed to have cellphones in school?

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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.”


whitney young student

Jake Hirschtritt looks at his phone after meeting up with his dad outside Whitney Young Magnet High School.
Nader Issa/Sun-Times

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?”



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Casey Urlacher Faces Charges in Connection to Illegal Offshore Sports Gambling Ring – NBC Chicago

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Casey Urlacher, the brother of former
Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, was one of ten individuals named in a
federal grand jury indictment Thursday, accused of helping to run an illegal
offshore gambling business.

Urlacher is accused of recruiting bettors
for the website UncleMickSports.com in exchange for a cut of their eventual
gambling losses.

Urlacher is currently serving as the mayor
of Mettawa, a village in Lake County.

He faces charges of conspiracy and running
an illegal gambling business in connection with the indictment.

The indictment, issued by the U.S. District
Court’s Northern District of Illinois, names a total of 10 defendants,
including Vincent Delgiudice, who is accused of running the website. The
website was maintained in Costa Rica, according to the indictment, and was used
to manage the accounting, betting and logistics of the illegal ring.

In the indictment, Urlacher is accused of
asking one of the defendants to “create an online login and password for a new
gambler,” and is accused of collecting money from gamblers who had lost on bets
on the website. In one instance, Urlacher is accused of giving Vasilios Prassas,
another defendant named in the indictment, an envelope containing cash payments
for gambling debts.

The Chicago Tribune also reports that one of the defendants in the case, Nicholas Stella, is a veteran Chicago police officer, and that he was stripped of his powers last year.

“The allegations against suspended police
officer Nicholas Stella are various serious and if proven, they undermine
everything the men and women of the Chicago Police Department represent,”
Charlie Beck said in a statement to the newspaper.

Arraignment dates have not been scheduled in the case. Each of the two counts Urlacher is facing carry a maximum sentence of five years.

After Casey Urlacher’s football career came
to an end, he became involved in several political endeavors, including his
election as mayor of Mettawa in 2013. He was appointed to the Illinois Civil Service
Commission by former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, and was appointed to another
term by former Governor Bruce Rauner in 2017.

cUrlacher also had an unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination in the 25th State Senate District in 2015.





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Casey Urlacher Among 10 Charged With Running Sports Gambling Operation – CBS Chicago

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Casey Urlacher – the brother of former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher – was indicted along with nine others Thursday on charges that they ran an illegal offshore sports gambling operation.

Urlacher, 40, is also mayor of the far north suburban village of Mettawa. He was charged with conspiracy and with running an illegal gambling business, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Prosecutors alleged that Urlacher worked on the gambling operation run by Vincent Delgiudice, 54, who is nicknamed “Uncle Mick.” Prosecutors said Delgiudice paid a Costa Rica-based company more than $10,000 a month for the website unclemicksports.com, which was used for the accounting, betting, record-keeping, and logistics of the gambling operation.

Delgiudice accepted wagers on both professional and amateur sporting events from up to 1,000 gamblers, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. He communicated with representatives of the sports book through an anonymous end-to-end encrypted messaging application, prosecutors said.

Delgiudice recruited gamblers for the business and set them up with accounts on Uncle Mick Sports website, prosecutors said. He collected and paid out money in cash to those gamblers, prosecutors said.

Urlacher was one of eight defendants whom Delgiudice allegedly recruited to work as agents for the gambling operation. They recruited sub-agents and gamblers for the business in exchange for a commission drawn from the gamblers’ losses, prosecutors said.

Also charged as agents were Matthew Knight, 46, of Mokena – also known as “Sweaters” and “McDougal” – Justin Hines, 40, of Algonquin; Keith D. Benson, 49, of Lemont; Todd Blanken, 43, of Cary; Nicholas Stella, 42, of Chicago; Matthew Namoff, 23, of Midlothian; and Vasilios Prassas, 37, of Chicago.

Another defendant – Eugene “Gino” Delgiudice, 84, of Orland Park – identified in published reports as Vincent Delgiudice’s father – was accused of assisting in collecting and paying out money.

In 2016, Casey Urlacher ran for the Republican nomination for the 26th District Illinois State Senate seat, but lost to Dan McConchie, who went on to win the general election.

Urlacher played in the Arena Football League before entering politics.



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NFL owners approve new Colletive Bargaining Agreement, send it back to players’ union

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NFL owners on Thursday agreed to the terms of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, sending the negotiated deal back to the NFL Players Association for a vote. The owners, in a statement, said that they want a deal done by the NFL Scouting Combine next week — and threatened to move forward under the final year of the previous CBA if it isn’t.

“Following more than 10 months of intensive and thorough negotiations, the NFL Players and clubs have jointly developed a comprehensive set of new and revised terms that will transform the future of the game, provide for players – past, present, and future – both on and off the field, and ensure that the NFL’s second century is even better and more exciting for the fans,” the league said in statement.

“The membership voted today to accept the negotiated terms on the principal elements of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Players Association would also need to vote to approve the same terms for there to be a new agreement.

“Since the clubs and players need to have a system in place and know the rules that they will operate under by next week, the membership also approved moving forward under the final year of the 2011 CBA if the players decide not to approve the negotiated terms. Out of respect for the process and our partners at the NFLPA, we will have no further comment at this time.”



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