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Outlawing Cell Phones in School? Are You Kidding Me?!!

Students holding cell phones texting to each other

Pardon the inflammatory title, but that is the response I’ve heard from parents and students about current proposals to severely curtail cell phones through a reactive “crack down.” In fact, I suspect that any such “crackdown” will be a way to unite the community after four years of culture wars; however, not in the way the school board intends. 

Universally, parents and students reject phone collection, particularly when they fully consider the logistics of such a plan and the impact on their student connection, privacy, and safety. The issue is that everyone feels a very personal connection to their cell phone. For example, if I walk out of the house without my cell phone, I feel unmoored and lost. It feels as if I’m missing part of my brain, which I kind of am, since I store so much information on my phone.

At last Thursday’s Fairfax County School Board (FCSB) meeting, board members approved a proposal for a pilot program involving a system-wide student cell phone storage solution, in addition to changes to the Students Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R). Their vote requires a presentation of recommendations in July from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid.

For middle school, this involves storing cell phones all day, and for high school, it would involve storing cell phones for each class. Teachers are allowed to make exceptions for in-class cell phone use. Per the proposal, students with medical conditions would be exempt. However, I bet a lot of parents would like to know what that means–is it students with IEPs, life threatening conditions, and/or something else completely?

These proposals are intended to address the (somewhat) piecemeal nature of school by school, and sometimes class-by-class, cell phone policies. Of course, there are already rules regarding cell phone use, which seem to be disregarded by many students, parents, and teachers.

No matter what, there are likely to be huge unintended consequences from whatever action the school board and superintendent choose. It is unlikely to make anyone happy, and it is very likely to enrage many parents and students.

Parent and Student Concerns

Initially, parents like the idea of curtailing cell phone use in schools, but after a few moments of thought, they get concerned. Parents fear being unable to connect with their child(ren) during school, especially in the case of an emergency. It is an unspoken truth that many parents fear gun violence in school, and want their child to be able to contact them in the case of an active shooter. Additionally, parents communicate throughout the day about logistics and other expectations, so locking up their child’s phone reduces their flexibility. 

Students echo the concern about extreme violence and safety. Additionally, they feel like their rights and ability to self-advocate are being undermined by such a draconian resolution. They also worry about the safety of their phone and the privacy of the information on their phone. 

For those who are unaware, FCPS Family Life Education (FLE) classes begin to cover internet and cell phone safety in elementary school. Recent suggested updates to the FLE curriculum involve cell phone safety lessons earlier in elementary school.

Logistics of Cell Phone Collection

I suspect that Superintendent Dr. Reid and her staff will carefully evaluate logistics, but I wanted to share some of the obvious concerns here for readers.

Personally, I have huge concerns about the recommendation to mass “collect cell phones” in the front office of middle schools. This is a logistical nightmare that will involve lost (and stolen) cell phones and place an undue burden on the front office and create anxiety among students. Additionally, such an effort will take away the rights of both students and parents/guardians.

For high school, I can only imagine how “excited” teachers will be when they have to take valuable class time to collect and redistribute cell phones during every class period every day of the week. Adding one more task to already overburdened teachers could never go wrong. Also I’m sure that all phones will be returned to every student and none will go missing, get stolen, or become broken. (Yes, that was my sarcastic voice.)

My daughter said that some classrooms at her high school already have individual numbered cell phone cubbies, but that few people use them. Otherwise, they seem like a nice idea; however, I question the need to build such cubbies in every classroom in Fairfax County high schools when we have schools that have mold and over-crowded classrooms.

Where Does That Leave Us?

We all seem to agree that student cell phone use is out of control in school and that cell phones are having deleterious mental health effects on kids, but none of us really agree on solutions to these problems. Many solutions seem so unpalatable or have so many unintended consequences that this is really a hard problem to solve. Nevertheless, I have a couple of ideas:

  • Involve a panel of respected and reasonable parent/guardian, student, teacher, and administrator representatives to ensure that decisions reflect the needs of vulnerable students, health and safety of students, logistical demands on administrators and teachers, and expectations and responsibilities of parents.

  • Make and enforce consistent rules regarding cell phone use and how to deal with abuse. Teachers need backup when they deal with cell phone use and abuse in classrooms. 

  • Maybe cell phone use in school should be on an opt-in basis? An opt-in would require that both parents and their student agree to rules and consequences of cell phone misuse.

  • FCPS should look at how other districts or specific schools are successfully handling the situation, respective of all stakeholders.

  • And….

Parents and Guardians Need to Take Responsibility for Cell Phone Use (and Abuse)

Finally, I think that parents need to take responsibility for their kids’ cell phone use and abuse. They need to do a better job of regulating their child’s cell phone use in the home and at school. And, if there is a serious problem, parents can support their child into better lifelong habits.

Whoever pays the bill, sets the rules. This means that before you buy your child a phone, it is a good idea to discuss the rights and responsibilities of cell phone use, including consequences for inappropriate use, particularly in school, and expectations on when, where, and how much they can use them. 

When kids are younger, parents can use one of the myriad of apps to monitor and/or restrict cell phone use during certain times or for certain activities. I found these helpful to teach my kids better habits regarding cell phone use and to avoid social media pitfalls.

Also, we adults need to set a better example. So many of us are are addicted to our phones. When we always are looking at our phones, we are likely teaching our kids that the phone takes precedence over everything else.

Personally, I have had to make a conscious effort to put down my phone and focus my attention on my family's needs, so I suspect I'm not alone. Turn off the phone and focus on your child. You both will be glad for it, and you will be setting them up for a more fulfilling life off-line and connected to their friends and family.

As a parent, I strongly recommend that you follow the FCSB discussions and tune in in July when Dr. Reid gives her presentation. Maybe you want to give your two cents to your FCSB member, as well.

Update and a Student Success Story

A friend told me that I was a "little too strident" in this blog. Rereading it, I have to admit she was right, and I've made some changes accordingly. I've also realized that I should share a recent success story about cell phones and students.

Universally, for camping trips with my scout troop, the rule has always been "NO PHONES." However, now they are all teenagers, I thought a discussion in advance of the trip would be useful. We had a discussion about what they wanted from the big camping trip with 100 other scouts and how phones would work in such an experience.

All of them decided that cell phones could be used to augment the trip (e.g., by taking photos), but cell phones should not interfere with the trip (e.g., by hanging out on social media). It was a great conversation that included respect, open discussion, and a mutually agreed upon decision.

The girls decided to bring along digital cameras to document the weekend and left their cell phones hidden in the minivan. Afterward, they were excited to see their phones again, but were appreciative of a weekend away from them. They had an amazing experience with direct connections with scouts of all different ages while they zip-lined, canoed, and hiked in the woods.

It was a glorious phone-free weekend because they were empowered to make a good decision.

Students agree that cell phone use is out of control in schools and that it is interfering with their education experience. However, we must not forget that students are stakeholders in the cell phone discussion. Discounting their concerns and eliminating their voice will directly lead to the same level of compliance (or lack thereof) to new rules, as to the current rules.

3 則留言

Sharon DK
Sharon DK

Thanks for bringing these issues to our attention. There was a recent article in the Washington Post about some school systems that have figured out how to address these concerns, and it seems very successful. Maybe good to check out how other schools are making this work before lambasting the idea. I look forward to hearing more


Terry Grogan
Terry Grogan

I appreciate the logistical and safety issues raised here about cell phone control, as well as possible negative workload and other impacts on teachers and staff.

But I wonder if you asked teachers, if there might not be an overwhelming sense that the problems of cell phone abuse outweigh these concerns. There have been repeated reports and studies that this crisis (which is what it sounds like to an outsider like me) has hurt the educational process, the ability of teachers to do their jobs, and just like in retrospect ill conceived school policies during the heights of the pandemic, set back students’ development and learning.

And there have been multiple experiments in cell phone control that apparently resulted i…

Vanessa Hall
Vanessa Hall

Author here. If you knew me, you would know that I 100% support teachers ability to keep cell phones from interfering with the classroom. In fact, everyone I know agrees with the need to support teachers on this. However, there are already rules, which clearly are not being implemented, followed, and/or respected. A few students are bullying others with phones and violating others' privacy, which has caused trauma and trouble. My intention was to start a conversation on this so that we can hear from everyone. I appreciate your comments, and think that we can all work together to solve this issue. Stakeholders need to be involved in the solution, which means that teachers, students, parents, and administrators need to work…

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