Fairfax Co. Schools May Change When Students Can Use Cell Phones
Changes to how and when students can use cell phones during the school day may be on the way in Fairfax County.
Proposed updates to school policies at Fairfax County Public Schools would prohibit students from using social media sites for non-academic purposes during school hours and define when cell phones can be used during the school day in Virginia’s largest school district.
Members of the Fairfax County School Board detailed proposed revisions to student rights and responsibilities during a working session this week.
The Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook for the 2021-22 school year says that with teacher approval, students can use personal devices “to access the internet and collaborate with other students during the school day” .
A proposed new section of school system policy defines when students can and cannot use their cellphones during the day. It includes a rule that elementary and middle school students’ phones must be turned off and put away during the school day, and for high school students’ phones must be turned off and put away during all teaching times.
Under the revisions introduced, primary school students would only be able to use phones before and after school, and in class when teachers believe they are “the most appropriate tool”.
Middle schoolers can use them before and after the last bell, and high schoolers would be allowed to use the phones before and after the first bell, between classes and during lunch.
The proposed changes were discussed about two weeks after Herndon High School banned the use of cell phones during the school day, as the school administration noticed an increase in the number of students using them during class.
School board member Elaine Tholen said Herndon Middle and High Schools have both “pretty much implemented how [the proposed changes are] written” and had positive results.
A school board vote on the proposed changes is scheduled for May 12. The school system considers revisions to its policies on student rights and responsibilities each year.
“Personally, I think asking people to put phones away during teaching times is totally appropriate,” Tholen said. “Teachers have the option of having children use it for part of that time.”
Michelle Boyd, the county’s assistant superintendent for special services, said the policy changes will help ensure teachers don’t have to use class time to address a student on their phone.
“Cellphones are great, but we still need to have the ability to engage. In short, I think the majority of our kids won’t have any problems at all,” Boyd said.
Vice President Rachna Sizemore Heizer said the proposed changes would be a “culture shift,” especially for high school students.
She said that after consulting students, teachers and principals on the use of mobile phones in schools, some students have become accustomed to using their phones and teachers have become accustomed to handing out forms by digital way.
Board member Laura Jane Cohen recommended that the proposal be adjusted for students who need access to their phones during the day, such as students who may be diabetic and who use their phone to monitor their blood sugar. .
President Stella Pekarsky, meanwhile, said she feared the changes would be unrealistic to implement. However, Boyd said most students are currently complying with the policy adjustments being considered.
“We try to work on the group that has challenges,” Boyd said. “I believe that overall the majority of our children will have no problem with this. And we also have to remember, that’s why we do it, that we want to make sure the children are available for instruction.
Separately, new language added to a different proposed policy stated that students could not access social media websites during the school day “unless permitted by the OCS and the school administration.” If permitted, social media activity should be limited to academic pursuits.
Earlier this year, the county banned a handful of student social media sites on the FCPS network and on laptops.
The school system has also defined cyberbullying in its glossary of terms.