RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Some Richmond school leaders say making schools a phone-free zone could prevent violent threats among students.
The research, uncovered by the Digital Working Group, shows students accessed and created thousands of harmful content last school year using different platforms.
Jonathan Young, a Richmond school board member, said there will be a discussion about the research at Monday night’s school board meeting.
The Digital Working Group is a committee made up of teachers, staff, students and parents. They were tasked with reviewing students’ digital use during the school day, including cell phones and RPS Chromebooks.
Their goal was to identify recommendations related to academic progress, student safety and overall welfare.
The group used Gaggle, a filtering system to analyze anything created and accessed by student accounts for potentially harmful content. This includes harassment, self-harm, and violence towards others, according to the group’s presentation.
Of those thousands of potentially harmful content, about 3,500 were violent threats pertaining to physical violence, Young said.
He added that there were 421 suicide assessments during the 2021-2022 school year.
The Digital Working Group said the majority of incidents they found fall under the category of violence towards others via messaging and Hangouts. Since the start of the school year, there’ve been about 3,500 alerts with the majority happening at the middle and high school levels.
Aspen, the school system’s student information system, recorded nearly 120 infractions for cell phone use during the 2021-2022 school year.
In light of the group’s findings, Young told 8News he wants to eventually propose a cell phone ban, similar to what Hopewell City Public Schools implemented this year.
He said the ban could increase students’ performance and make the schools feel safer.
“In this moment we are lost. We are confused. We are broken and our students unfortunately on the front lines of that,” he said.
Richmond Public Schools administered a survey to teachers and staff for the 2021-2022 academic year. The survey received 2,100 responses from teachers and staff. It showed that 56% of teachers feel safe at school. At George Wythe High School, the responses showed 14% of its teachers felt safe.
“Our teachers are clamoring for help. They’re crying out for help on this subject. And to connect all the dots, too few of our teachers and too few of our students in a recent survey said they feel safe in the buildings,” Young said.