Stafford schools ban cell phones, establish Office of Student Conduct

by | Jun 12, 2024 | ALLFFP, Schools & Education, Stafford

The Stafford County School Board approved an updated Student Code of Conduct during Tuesday’s meeting that includes a policy stating that electronic devices — including cell phones — must be kept silent and stored away during the school day, from first bell to dismissal.  

Students may use their phones before and after school, during sports and activity practices, and under special circumstances. The updated code of conduct also addresses issues of bullying and the removal of students from class due to behavior. 

During the meeting, the school board approved its final operating budget for the fiscal year 2024-2025, detailing the allocation of additional funds provided through the state budget.   

The school division’s provisional budget, passed in April, held back $3.1 million in the hopes that the state legislature would approve a budget with additional funds for schools. That decision paid off, with the finalized state budget sending $4 million to Stafford County Public Schools.   

The final $460.7 million adopted budget increases the base teacher scale by $250, a 0.5% increase to the current teacher scale approved in the provisionally adopted budget earlier this spring. This is in addition to the increase (which ranges from 3 to 9%) set in the provisional budget.  

The rest of the funds will go toward implementing a new Office of Student Conduct and installing a Dean of Students at each county high school, a move many board members and the superintendent, Thomas Taylor, say is urgently needed. The Dean of Students will be a teacher on an extended contract tasked with handling additional administrative duties at high schools. Taylor told the board to prepare for a rise in discipline problems as the cell phone ban is enacted.  

There was division among the school board members and the community on how to allocate that funding, with some saying that all additional funds should go to teachers.  

“I am not a fan of a centralized office personnel to handle things,” said Dr. Elizabeth Warner, Griffis-Widewater District representative. “There’s a lot of things we ask teachers to do that we don’t compensate them for… I think we do have a discipline problem. I’m just not sure what it is, and I’m not sure this Office of Student Conduct is going to give me that answer.”  

Warner, along with Dr. Sarah Chase (Falmouth District) and Patricia Healy (Rock Hill District), voted against the resolution, which ultimately passed by a vote of 4 to 3.  

Chase said she felt like Thomas Jefferson in the musical Hamilton, who upon returning from France found things not as he left them. “The last meeting I was at, we all said that when the money came, we would put the one percent for teachers back in. And I understand that some board members apparently have been having lots of discussions about a centralized office of student conduct. I haven’t been in those discussions.”  

“The tradeoff is giving (teachers) a little peace of mind, that we are actively addressing their concerns with discipline to create a safer environment for them to come to school,” said Hartwood representative Alyssa Halstead. “When we’ve got students that are picking up chairs and throwing them at teachers and no mechanisms to provide safety for those teachers, then what are we faced with? These decisions become more untenable every week.”  

The Office of Student Conduct would provide training, standardization and specialized support for all disciplinary actions, such as hearings and data monitoring. Taylor pointed out that additional personnel would also be needed to handle new federal Title IX rules requiring investigations. The new office would also take some of the burden off division counsel, which has been inundated with disciplinary adjudication.  

“I want to thank our community for their passionate advocacy regarding student safety. We’ve listened as a school board, and I’m pleased to announce that your concerns are reflected in our final adopted budget and the updates made to our Student Code of Conduct that specifically address discipline and safety,” said Board chair Maureen Siegmund. “While we had to make some difficult decisions regarding salaries, I am pleased that we are supporting our teachers with an additional increase, continuing on our promise to correct the teacher scale.” 

Teachers and instructional support personnel will be notified of their updated salaries reflecting this increase over the provisionally issued contracts. No employee will receive a decrease in salary.  

While the board may only approve a budget one year at a time, the FY25 School Board Final Adopted Budget is in alignment with the superintendent’s proposed five-year budget, the previously adopted provisional budget and the division strategic plan.  

During the meeting, the board also voted to become the funding body for the Commonwealth Governor’s School and agreed to the partnership and operating agreements for the Academy of Technology and Innovation at the University of Mary Washington (ATI-UMW). The lab school, scheduled to welcome approximately 85 students from across the region this fall, will provide instruction with a focus on computer and data science.  

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