More Virginia Districts Crack Down on Phones in Schools

Morgan Sweeney | May 23, 2024

(The Center Square) — More school districts in Virginia are starting to implement school cell phone bans, prohibiting students from using their phones during the school day and, in some cases, even on the bus.

Many districts ban student cell phone usage at elementary schools, and some ban them at their middle schools, but until recently, high school policies have often been more permissive. 

Some school districts like Virginia Beach City Public Schools have updated their policies within the past few years. The district revised its cell phone policy for the 2022-23 school year. The school board determined that students could have their phones with them during the day, but they needed to be off or silent, not on the student’s person, and not used in the bathroom or elsewhere during class. They are allowed to use them in the hallways during passing time or during lunch. 

The city of Hopewell also updated its phone policy for its middle and high school students for the same school year, though it went a step farther than Virginia Beach. The district used federal COVID-relief funds to purchase locking pouches at a discounted price to hold students’ phones during the day; students cannot use them at all while at school.

“While we have attempted to accommodate student phones over the years and limit their use, we are finding that they are causing much more harm than help during the school day,” the district announced in a press release before the start of the school year.

Students are to store their phones in the pouches once they enter the school and can remove them when they leave. The pouches can only be unlocked using a magnetic unlocking base, which students can access at the end of the school day. If students’ pouches become damaged or go missing, they’re responsible for replacing them.

Richmond adopted a similar policy for three of its middle schools and three of its high schools in January for a trial period. 

Fairfax, Franklin, Hanover and Stafford counties all have policies allowing at minimum older students to use their phones between classes and at lunch. But all of these districts are now considering stricter policies. 

Fairfax and Hanover are considering the widespread use of locking pouches, as Hopewell has done and Richmond is piloting. Stafford, too, is looking at locking pouches, but only as a disciplinary measure for students who have violated its policies. Otherwise, it may adopt a similar policy to Virginia Beach – that students’ phones must be off or on silent and stored in a backpack or locker during class.

At its most recent board meeting, the Hanover County School Board listened to a presentation on the pouches for elementary and middle school students, revealing that Yondr pouches would cost the district $30 per student.

This article was made available to EdNews Virginia via The Center Square, a project of the Franklin News Foundation.