Silent mode? Stafford Schools propose to ban student phones during instruction

by | May 15, 2024 | ALLFFP, Schools & Education, Stafford

At last night’s monthly meeting, the Stafford County School Board announced an update to the division policy regarding student cell phone use. 

The proposed update to the Code of Student Conduct and Related Policies adds a regulation that “prohibits personal communication devices during the regular school day.” Students will have to turn their phones off or silence them and store them out of sight in a backpack or bag from the start bell until the dismissal bell. 

Students who violate the policy will have their phones placed in a locked pouch, which can only be unlocked when a parent or guardian reports to the school. Some exemptions apply to the rule, such as for students with medical devices, use on buses, and after-school use. Currently middle school and elementary school students are prohibited from using personal electronic devices during the school day.

The board didn’t take any action on the policy but will discuss it further at its meeting on June 11. It encouraged the public to send comments to their representatives. 

Once enacted, the new policy would apply to all schools and grades, kindergarten through 12th grade. The board also suggested implementing a grace period between passing the policy updates and implementing them. 

“This has been an ongoing concern for school staff, our teachers and our principals,” Stafford Superintendent Thomas Taylor said.

Distractions and disruptions in classes were some of the reasons behind the policy, said board members. The King George School Board is discussing the implementation of a similar policy on Wednesday evening. And the issue cropped up in both state and national legislation this year.

“What we see is students that are so engrossed in their phones, they’re no longer engaging with their counterparts, their peers, their teachers. They’re not paying attention,” said Elizabeth Warner, Griffis-Widewater District. “It’s robbing them of sleep and interfering with their ability to concentrate. And it’s addictive — it’s not a phone, it’s a computer.” 

Warner added that some workplaces don’t allow cell phones, such as in research labs where she has spent part of her professional career. “This idea that somehow kids need their cell phones to get a job is not accurate,” she said. “This is going to be a real challenge. I advise parents to look at the policy and understand that this was a decision not made lightly.” 

“This wasn’t just done willy-nilly,” said Alyssa Halstead, Hartwood District. “We have spoken to a lot of parents. We have, collectively as a board, put a lot of time and effort into looking into this.” 

Other updates to the student code of conduct include the addition of parental responsibility clauses, updated language on bullying, and a description of behaviors that can lead to expulsion. 

“I will state plainly, when I support this, it will be for me, personally, out of desperation because I don’t know any other way that we can start to get a handle on the distractions that are in the schools,” said Vice-Chair Maya Guy, Aquia district. “I have a very good friend of mine who’s been teaching here for twenty-something years and she doesn’t call herself a teacher. She calls herself a babysitter of electronics.” 

The members said they expect to hear plenty of comments from parents and students via email and phone in the following weeks. 

Updates on school construction 

Jason Towery, executive director of facilities & maintenance, gave a progress report on construction projects throughout the division

Towery said High School No. 6, Elementary School No. 18, and Elementary School No. 19 are all progressing on schedule and on budget.  

Grading work and tree clearing have begun on the high school site. The elementary school plans will face approval and conditional use permitting at the May 22 planning commission meeting. Towery said there has been some frustration that the county is behind in the permitting process but is catching up quickly. 

The school division staff are still looking at potential locations for the new Drew Middle School and hope to have more information for the school board in June. 

Other notable resolutions passed during the business meeting: the board approved a contract for $954,000 for HVAC mechanical upgrades at Stafford Middle School using VSPA funds; approved $80,225 for repairing the bathroom partitions at Rockhill Elementary School; approved just over $2 million for electrical repairs at North Stafford High School using VPSA bond funds; and approved the reallocation of 3R funds. 

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