Arlington parents call for schools to adopt ‘away for the day’ cellphone policy

Some Arlington parents are urging the Virginia school district to adopt an “away for the day” policy for student cellphone use, the latest in what’s emerging as an annual call for action between residents and school leaders.

In a letter to Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Duran last week, the group Arlington Parents for Education (APE) asked the school district to adopt stricter and universal cellphone policies for its students. Adopting such a policy improves students’ academic performance and reduces stress and anxiety, the letter, signed by the group’s board members, said.

The memo comes as the school district’s School Health Advisory Board is expected to recommend the “away for the day” policy to the school board at a meeting later this month. Citing research suggesting cellphone use during the school day has a negative impact on students academically and emotionally, the board is making the recommendation for the fourth consecutive year. This year, and twice prior, it was a unanimous decision to make the recommendation, according to board documents.

A school district spokesman told WTOP that it is reviewing data from cellphone pilot programs in certain schools and is hoping to have an update next school year.

“This is something that doesn’t cost a dime, that would improve outcomes immediately, (and) actually would target the kids who were affected the most by pandemic closures,” parent Camille Galdes said.

In recommending the “away for the day” policy, the advisory board pointed to similar protocols in place at some Fairfax County Public Schools. And in May, the school board there voted to require Superintendent Michelle Reid to create a pilot program for storing cellphones in classrooms or lockers during the school day.

In Arlington Public Schools, meanwhile, Galdes said the discussion is mainly aimed at middle and high school students. She added that there’s no consistent policy across the school division, so when principals put rules in place, they don’t have a countywide policy to point to in defending them.

“Whatever policy they might be trying to implement at their school ends up eroding and falling apart with time,” Galdes said.

APE is calling for students to be required to leave their phones in lockers or pouches during the whole school day. That includes banning cellphone use between classes and during lunch, Galdes said, so “direct instructional time during class is not disrupted, but also that interpersonal time that peers can have is not disrupted.”

They’re also asking that specific consequences for violating a cellphone policy be detailed specifically.

Critics of such policies argue that parents need to be able to speak to their children in the event of emergency and that students may not feel as stressed with easy access to their phones.

In response to the advisory board’s recommendation, school district staff said they support “the concept of limiting the use of cellphones and related technology in the classroom,” but recommend reviewing pilot program data and considering needs of students at different grade levels and the potential impact such a policy could have on student discipline outcomes.

They’re scheduled to present their recommendations to the school board on June 20.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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