Parents, students raise concerns about Hopewell schools phone-free policy

Hopewell now requires middle & high school students to lock phones in individual pouches during school day
School is back in session for Hopewell students, but this year if they want to step into the classroom, they’ll have to do so without their cell phones.
Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 8:00 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 25, 2022 at 8:04 PM EDT
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HOPEWELL, Va. (WWBT) - School is back in session for Hopewell students, but this year if they want to step into the classroom, they’ll have to do so without their cell phones.

All students with cell phones were provided small, gray, personal cellphone pouches where they put their phones in as soon as students arrived at school. The pouches have magnetic locks that only the administration can open. Students can have their phones on their person, but only if it remains in the pouch.

This new “phone-free policy” aims to prevent distractions in the classroom.

In a statement to parents a few weeks back, the school district said the phone-free-zone policy was done to enhance student learning, culture and safety. Still, parents like Charles Sears, who has two kids in middle and high school, fear the policy may limit the safety of their students if they can’t reach them directly during an emergency.

“I don’t personally care for it,” Sears said. “I mean, if the kids have any issue in the school, they can’t call anybody, they can’t do anything, the phones are locked.”

Sears said he relied on communication with his children when he felt the school system took too long to respond to an incident.

“We’ve had notifications come through later on that night that there has either been a bomb threat or some other kind of call going on at the school, and we don’t know it until our kids tell us when I get home or school calls late at night and leave a message on our phones,” Sears said.

According to the school system, one principal said that students were very informed about the expectations coming into the school today, and there were little to no non-compliant behaviors.

“It was amazing seeing students at lunch talking and getting to know one another. It was a smooth start getting phones into pouches, and the school has a solid plan for getting phones out of pouches at dismissal,” one Hopewell principal said in a statement.

Sears’ son Evan who attends Hopewell High School, says the phone pouches only present a new distraction.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of kids break them,” Evan said. “What they do is they’ll snap the top part in half in order to get access to their phones.”

Students said that in addition to disciplinary action, those who break their pouches would have to pay $15 to purchase a new one.

Evan said he believes Hopewell schools should have pursued other options to discipline students for cellphone use.

“I don’t think it will work as they wanted to, but it was an attempt to do something they probably could have done a better way,” Evan said. “I think the pouches are overkill, pointless and a waste of money.”

In a June statement, the school system said they have attempted to accommodate student phones over the years and limit their use but found that the devices caused more harm than help during the school day.

“They need to be able to find a different way instead of locking the student’s phones up all day long,” Sears said.

NBC12 reached out to Hopewell Schools for a statement in response to reports of students breaking the pouches, but they have not yet responded.

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