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Former Long Islander urges middle schools to require phones be ‘Away for the Day’

A scene from "Screenagers," a documentary by Delaney

A scene from "Screenagers," a documentary by Delaney Ruston, who is spearheading the "Away for the Day" project. Credit: Screenagers

A former Setauket resident is spearheading an initiative called “Away for the Day,” urging middle schools nationwide to require students to put their phones away during the school day.

Delaney Ruston is a physician and filmmaker behind the 2016 documentary “Screenagers,” which explores the question of when children should get their own smartphones. She delved into the issue when her daughter, Tessa, who attended Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School in East Setauket, wanted a phone for herself. Before making a purchase she talked to hundreds of other families from Seattle to the Bronx as well as experts in brain science and social media.

Delaney and her Screenagers team, now based in Seattle, have conducted a nationwide survey on cellphone policies in schools and parental preferences. She says they learned that 55 percent of middle schools let students carry phones all day and 82 percent of parents don’t want their kids using phones at school.

“We know through experience kids are using them at breaks, at lunch and unfortunately in class . . . sneaking them here and there,” Ruston says. Studies have shown that when kids are allowed to have their phones all day, they are distracted by them, Ruston says.

Ruston’s group is seeking pledges of support from middle schools that will have students put their phones in their lockers for the day.

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