HOPEWELL, Va. (WRIC) — Starting next school year, Hopewell City Public Schools will be a ‘phone-free’ zone, meaning students will not have access to their cell phones throughout the day.

The division announced the new policy Tuesday night, saying this is an “important step to enhance student learning, culture and safety at school.”

Under this new policy, students at Hopewell High School and Carter G. Woodson Middle School will be required to put their phones in a Yondr pouch that locks when it is closed. The pouch will not be unlocked until students exit the building for the day.

“While we have attempted to accommodate student phones over the years and limit their use, we are finding that they are causing much more harm than help during the school day,” school leaders wrote in their announcement.

However, some Hopewell parents, like Colonel Pratt, are not on board with the new policy. Pratt’s son is a rising senior at Hopewell High, and he believes cell phones are critical in the case of an emergency.

“I’m afraid for the safety of my son at school. And I think a lot of parents are,” Pratt said. “I like knowing that he can reach out to me if there is a problem, whether it’s an individual student or something going on affecting the whole school.”

He questioned, “How is he going to get in contact with me? Am I going to hear it on the news before I know if my child is alive or dead? It’s horrible.” 

According to Hopewell Schools, cell phones have been problematic in the classroom. School leaders claim the phones have been used to let outsiders in through side doors and even to instigate and record fights.

Pratt believes this is a blanket policy that is somewhat punishing students who are not involved with inappropriate activities.

“My son is an A-B student. He doesn’t have these problems with using the cell phone…he’s responsible, and it’s not a distraction, so why is he required to put his phone in this pouch? When it’s not a problem for him,” he said.

Other parents like Alyscia Gelina agree with the concern from the school system, but doesn’t believe this policy will get to the root of the problem.

“I do understand that using the phone in class has been a very big problem, but will it stop the fights? No,” she said.

8News reached out to Hopewell schools on Wednesday with these concerns. Byron Davis with HCPS responded with the following:

  • Students will still be able to have their phones with them up until they enter the building, and they will be able to use them as they exit. Use of a phone to and from school is not affected. 
  • Students will still be able to call parents from the office and parents will be able to reach students as needed through the office. It is also the case that in certain types of emergencies the phones can be unlocked inside the school. 
  • While many concerns are focused on being able to reach students in an emergency, we have had situations where the use of phones in schools is actually creating the safety concern. They have been used to arrange fights, open a side door to allow someone in, etc.  
  • We have, and are continuing to, significantly enhance the safety measures in our schools. We have recently added several new security officers, upgraded door locking and monitoring systems, installed metal detectors, implemented a new mobile alerting system among staff and purchased additional cameras to increase coverage. 
  • While safety is often thought of with a significant event in mind, student mental health and connectedness is also a safety issue and limiting and setting boundaries around cell phone use is a significant step to help with that long-term safety issue. 

This policy was unanimously approved by the school board in May and will go into effect at the start of the next school year.

In the meantime, Pratt and Gelina believe school leaders should hold more conversations with families.

“I would advise them to revisit this. There a lot of parents who do not agree with this issue,” Pratt said. “There are a lot of parents who have kids like mine who haven’t had problems with cell phones and they don’t understand why they’re being punished.”

The the full statement from Hopewell Schools, visit their website.