Cell Phone Ban Proposed in Stafford Schools

School Board will vote on proposed new regulation, as well as other updates to the Code of Student Conduct, next month.

The Stafford School Board is considering banning use of cell phones and other personal electronic communication devices during the regular school day.

The Board at its regular business meeting on Tuesday reviewed a proposed new regulation that would prohibit the use of these devices by students from the start bell to the dismissal day each day.

The new regulation is among other proposed updates to the Code of Student Conduct and related policies that were presented for review this week and will be scheduled for a vote in June.

“The use of personal/electronic communication devices by students during instructional time is determined to be disruptive to the educational environment, unconducive to productive learning experiences, and often the source of disciplinary intervention,” new regulation states. “The school board aims to provide a learning environment free of unnecessary distraction and disruption.”

Students will be required to turn off or silence their devices and put them “out of visible sight” in either a backpack or personal bag.

“I will just state plainly that when I support this, for me, it will be out of desperation. I don’t know any other way we can start to get a handle on our discipline and on the distractions that are in our schools.”
-School Board member Maya Guy, Aquia district representative

Noncompliance with the regulation will result in the device being placed in a locked pouch which the student will carry. The pouch will not be unlocked until a parent or guardian reports to the school.

The only exceptions to the regulation are provided for students who have a documented medical need, are participating in after school events or activities, or are riding the school bus, as long as they use headphones or ear pods.

“The aforementioned permitted exceptions shall be narrowly construed,” the regulation states.

The division surveyed staff, students, and parents on cell phone use in schools earlier this year and the Board discussed the results at a work session in April.

While students and staff and parents disagree on how much access students should have to their devices during the school day, a majority of all groups — 52% of students, 91% of parents and 94% of staff — said “distraction from learning” is the biggest challenge presented by cell phone use in school.

“Cell phones do four things — they disrupt sleep patterns, they disrupt concentration, they’re addictive, and they are a source of disruption in class,” Griffis-Widewater district representative Elizabeth Warner said during a work session on Tuesday.

They also contribute to discipline issues, with students using them to coordinate prohibited activities or livestream fights, Board members said.

The school division implemented a version of the cell phone ban at the middle school level this year.

George Washington district representative Susan Randall said during the meeting that witnessing how the ban has improved discipline and reduced classroom disruption in the middle schools changed her mind about whether to support it.

Maya Guy, who represents the Aquia district, said she expects to hear from many in the community who “might be shocked or not happy about this.”

“I will just state plainly that when I support this, for me, it will be out of desperation,” she said. “I don’t know any other way we can start to get a handle on our discipline and on the distractions that are in our schools.”

Guy implored parents to start having conversations with their children about when it is and is not appropriate to use their personal devices.

“If you are not having these conversations, you are part of the problem,” she said. “Educators cannot do this alone. We need your help.”

In addition to the new cell phone regulation, the Code of Conduct updates proposed include the addition of several paragraphs detailing the rights and responsibilities of parents and guardians.

The listed responsibilities include, but are not limited to “working with school administrators and teachers to address any academic or behavioral issues; participating in a face-to-face return to school conference following completion of your child’s out of school suspension; supporting Stafford Schools by communicating with your children about acceptable and expected school behavior; becoming familiar and complying with the policies and regulations of Stafford Schools, administrative regulations, and the Code of Student Conduct; … [and] being polite and courteous to staff, other parents, guardians, and students at all times.”

Hartwood district representative Alyssa Halstead said getting parents to partner with the school division to support student behavior is of great importance to her.

“My biggest charge is making parents a bigger partner in this symbiotic relationship between schools and home,” she said. “We are seeing far too much of a disconnect in terms of that happening.”

Other proposed changes include the re-addition of Saturday School to the list of potential interventions for Code of Conduct violations; updates to the definition of “bullying” to comply with Virginia Code; and the addition of language stating that unnecessarily and intentionally touching staff is equivalent to striking staff and that filming and posting fights that occur on school property is forbidden.

The proposed updated and new regulations are included with the agenda for the May 15 School Board meeting, accessible from the School Board’s website.

by Adele Uphaus
MANAGING EDITOR AND CORRESPONDENT

Managing Editor and Correspondent