Loudoun Co. school board passes tighter student cellphone policy, set to start this fall

When public school students return to classes in Loudoun County, Virginia, this fall a new, tighter cellphone policy will be in place, which could also affect how parents communicate with their children during the school day.

The Loudoun County School Board approved a new policy Tuesday that details the use of student personal devices, including cellphones, earbuds and smartwatches.

Under the newly-passed Policy 8655, elementary school students are not permitted to use personal technology during the school day. Parents and guardians of children who require access to personally owned devices as part of an Individualized Education Plan accommodation will be able to request an exception.

Middle school students will be required to keep their personal devices silent and stored in their locker during the school day. They will be allowed to use the devices before and after school.

For high schoolers, a last-minute amendment from at-large board member Anne Donohue removed the option for students to keep their devices silenced, but in their pocket or backpack. She said students suggested that restriction would help reduce temptations that distract students from what’s happening in class.

“If the devices are allowed to be within the students’ pocket or backpack, our students have a hard time restraining themselves from checking it, if it’s within reach,” said Donohue.

Under Donahue’s amendment, high school students will be required to place their personal devices “in a classroom storage location, not on their person, or immediately accessible.”

Leesburg District board member Lauren Shernoff supported the additional restriction, based on her recent conversations with constituents about instituting the new policy.

“The feedback that I’ve gotten is that this isn’t tight enough, which did surprise me,” Shernoff said.

Shernoff told fellow board members she believes the firmer restrictions will be helpful.

“Kids are not tempted away from the valuable instruction that is happening in the classroom, and they can be fully connected to focusing on their academics and the learning, and I think that’s really the goal,” Shernoff said.

Board member April Chandler of the Algonkian District, who chaired the session, said they’ll have the ability to adjust the policy at the beginning of the school year.

“It will take parents, it will take teachers, it will take principals to support our students through this change,” Chandler said. “It might not be easy, but I believe the results will be well worth the effort.”

The new policy will also require parents and guardians to curtail texting students during the school day.

“LCPS recognizes parents need to know how to contact their child in case of an emergency. If there is an emergency, parents may contact the main office of their child’s school,” according to the policy.

Before the vote, the school system’s Chief Technology Officer Aaron Smith said parents are choosing to keep track of their child’s location, with the location information available on a smartwatch.

Editor’s note: Clarified that parents of students with Individualized Education Plans who use personal devices will be able to request an exception.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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