HOPEWELL, Va. (WRIC) – Hopewell students are heading back to class for their balanced calendar school year starting this morning, without cell phones. The balanced calendar, similar to year-round school, began in Hopewell schools in 2021, and means most kids will be in class for 45 days, have a two-week break and repeat that over the year.

Students will be going to class at Hopewell High School and Carter G. Woodson Middle School without their phones for the first time after the division announced a new controversial policy last month.

When the bell rings at 7:30 a.m., students will have to put their phones in a pouch that won’t be unlocked until the end of the day.

The division said it is an important step to enhance student learning, culture and safety at school.

School leaders said phones have caused much more harm than help during the school day in the past. They claim phones have been used to let outsiders into the school through side doors to instigate fights.

Some parents said they were not on board with the new policy, and claim cell phones are critical in case of an emergency.

“I’m afraid for the safety of my son at school. And I think a lot of parents are,” Hopewell schools parent Colonel Pratt said in previous 8News reporting. “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.”

School leaders said they are significantly enhancing safety measures like adding new security officers and upgrading door locks.

While controversial among parents and students, this policy was unanimously approved by the school board in May of 2022.