Fredericksburg School Board approves new cell phone policy

by | Jul 2, 2024 | ALLFFP, Fredericksburg, Schools & Education

The Fredericksburg City School Board on Monday night unanimously approved a new policy governing the use of Personal Communication Devices (PCDs) in instructional settings. 

Under the policy and attached regulation, PCDs include cell phones, tablets and smartwatches among other devices. Elementary school students are not allowed to possess PCDs, while middle and high school students’ devices “must be powered completely off, properly stored away, and not visible in instructional settings during instructional time.” 

Specifically, cell phones must be placed in Yondr pouches, proprietary storage devices that lock to prevent use.  

Students who violate the policy will be subject to discipline ranging from a warning to out-of-school suspension. Teachers won’t be required to confiscate devices themselves, avoiding the interactions that have proven confrontational in other jurisdictions that have attempted to restrict them.  

The division’s policy was crafted following a “working lunch” last month at which teachers provided input as part of a focus group. That session, held at the Walker-Grant Center, was closed to the public.  

“It’s time for all of us to tackle this issue of students who are either addicted to social media or flagrantly disregard the rules,” Deputy Superintendent Matt Eberhardt said in a press release following the June 18 session, which was attended by approximately 40 teachers and administrators. “Teachers want to teach and don’t want to police students and cellphones.” 

The regulation, titled JFC2-R, also states that teachers and staff “should model appropriate cellphone or PCD control by not using such devices during instructional time.”

With prior approval from an administrator, students may have a PCD powered on for health care reasons (i.e. heart or diabetes monitors) or for assistive support specified in a Section 504 or Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  

Only one speaker addressed the proposed policy during a public comment session prior to the vote. City resident Seth Casana recounted how, in the late 1990s, he brought an 8mm camcorder to school to memorialize the final days of his senior year at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax County.

Casana noted that while there wasn’t a school rule prohibiting such behavior at the time, “I knew well enough not to try to film while class was in session. Had I attempted to do so, I knew that the teacher would’ve immediately told me to stop being a distraction and would’ve taken away my camera.

“And I can guarantee you that if all 4,000 of my classmates had followed in my footsteps, there would’ve been a swift response from the administration.”

Casana said that the above hypothetical scenario closely resembles the situation in which school districts find themselves today.

“I want to reiterate that while I’m a technology advocate, I’m still in favor of this new restrictive policy,” Casana said. “These are the same kinds of problems that courtrooms and military bases cannot resolve without such a ban on these devices. If they can’t do it any other way, how can we expect a grade school classroom setting to do it any better?”

The board also approved an elementary start time change as part of its consent agenda. At its June meeting, the board discussed moving the start time for Hugh Mercer and Lafayette Elementary schools from 8:25 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. 

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