Washington County, Va. schools discuss commonwealth’s decision to restrict cellphone use in classrooms | WJHL
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Washington County, Va. schools discuss commonwealth’s decision to restrict cellphone use in classrooms | WJHL

Faith Little and Jayonna Scurry

23 minutes ago

ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) — The Commonwealth of Virginia is moving to restrict cellphone use in schools, citing concerns that students are spending too much time in front of screens.

Governor Youngkin signed an executive order Monday to establish cell phone-free classrooms in all K-12 public schools in Virginia. News Channel 11 spoke with Washington County, Virginia Public Schools about the upcoming change.

“There’s a lot of really scary data out there right now,” said district Superintendent Keith Perrigan. “It came out of this book, The Anxious Generation, which really connects the decline in mental health among teenagers in America to their use of cell phones and the apps and social media capabilities that those phones offer.”

He and other leaders decided it would be best to look for ways to keep cellphones used for educational purposes only during school hours. Perrigan said the school district will not ban cellphones entirely, but will continue to enforce and update its current restrictions on cellphones in schools.

“Mobile phones, although they are very convenient and have many advantages, for children, especially those who use them at too young an age, when they are not yet mature enough to cope with everything that comes with it, can have very serious consequences for their mental health and sometimes even, unfortunately, for their safety.”

Haley Viers, a teacher and parent from Washington County, said she has seen firsthand how distracting cellphones are in the classroom.

“When they’re on their phone instead of doing their job, creating drama with their peers, on social media, etc.,” Viers said.

“Picking fights and bullying, cyberbullying. So (it) definitely affects mental health.”

Viers said better enforcement at the state level makes it easier for teachers to enforce rules at the district level.

“Even though it’s a rule not to take them out during classes, kids will still try to steal them. So government support will definitely be helpful as a teacher.”

Perrigan said his district plans to conduct a “pilot test” to determine what works best, but students will still be able to keep their devices.

“Where students will turn in their cell phones when they come to school, and we’ll give them a magnetic bag (to lock them up). And at the end of the day, we can unlock that magnet. That way, they have possession of their cell phone throughout the day, but they don’t really have access to it.”

Perrigan added that school principals are also developing strategies that will allow students or schools to communicate with parents and guardians in the event of an emergency.

Washington County Public Schools will look at the data at its August board meeting to learn why and how the policy needs to be reexamined.

“Then let’s start creating stakeholder groups that will come up with ideas and suggestions on how we can change and effectively implement this policy.”

Perrigan predicts the district policy changes will be in place by November or December. Gov. Youngkin wants the new state rules to go into effect by January 2025.