FCPS School Board institutes new limits on cell phones

Gaby Gutierrez, News Editor

While approximately 95% of U.S. teenagers own a cell phone, there are new limits this year on their use in county schools as the result of a new Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) district-wide policy. In its June 2022 meeting, the board approved a school cell phone ban after an 8-4 vote. 

Supporters of the ban believe it will limit distractions in class and keep kids focused on the lesson plans and material. Those who are not in favor of the ban have voiced concerns that the policy limits communication, safety and the freedom of students.

“While I am in total support of restricting cell phone usage in classrooms, I argued strongly against a total ban on cell phone usage,” FCPS School Board Member Stella Pekarsky (Sully District) said. “Especially at the middle school level, I wanted the students to have some flexibility and give them the opportunity to learn by themselves how to responsibly use technology in the 21st century.”

Passed as part of the updated FCPS Student Rights and Responsibilities document, the policy states that students in grades 9-12 must silence their phones and put them away during all instructional periods. While the policy states that FCPS devices should meet most needs, teachers may allow students to use cell phones for instructional activities when appropriate. Although devices may not be used in locker rooms or restrooms unless there is an emergency or medical necessity, cell phones may still be used at lunch, during passing periods and before and after the last bell.

“Cell phones are a permanent part of all our lives now and are used as a tool by our students in all kinds of ways,” FCPS School Board Member Laura Jane Cohen (Springfield District, which includes CHS) said. Cohen was one of the eight members of the Board that voted in favor of the policy but she expressed concerns about the ban. “As a school system, I would’ve preferred we work with our students and teachers to come up with a policy that recognizes that fact while also increasing student engagement in the classroom” 

The cell phone ban may pose challenges for certain students, particularly those with disabilities.  To address these concerns, FCPS School Board Chair Rachna Sizemore Heizer introduced changes to the policy, allowing parents to request access to cell phones as an accommodation.

“Many of our students with disabilities use cell phones as tools to navigate their work, their schedules and their social or medical needs,” Sizemore Heizer said.

According to Cohen, several parents and teachers have reached out this year to say the cell phone ban has been an improvement. Some students at CHS, however, have voiced concern over the ban.

“A lot of people have their phones out for small tasks so a full ban feels very strict and constricting on the students,” freshman Hasini Jujjavarapu said.

Gaby Gutierrez