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A closeup of an iPhone screen (via Adrien/Unsplash)

After roughly a decade of relative freedom, Fairfax County Public Schools is sending cellphones back into students’ backpacks.

The Fairfax County School Board is considering restricting the use of personal phones during class for all students as part of several proposed revisions to its Students Rights & Responsibilities handbook, which sets standards for student behavior and discipline.

As proposed during a work session on April 26, the extent of the ban would vary depending on the grade level. Elementary and middle school students would only be allowed to use cellphones before and after the school day, while high schoolers can take them out during lunch and periods between classes.

The revised regulation says teachers could still let students use phones for instructional activities “where they are the most appropriate tool,” but in most cases, the school-issued laptops that most students receive should be adequate.

FCPS has already started to limit phone use in Herndon schools, and Dranesville District School Board Representative Elaine Tholen said at the work session that the changes have had positive results, WTOP reported last week.

The proposed changes mark a shift away from FCPS’ current policy, which embraces technology as a way of “creating a 21st century learning environment” and permits students to use their personal devices to access the internet and work with classmates.

FCPS introduced its Bring Your Own Device policy about a decade ago, as the system started to phase in the school-issued laptops. The initiative, which notes that the use of phones for “personal or recreational purposes” should be minimized, won FCPS a Governor’s Technology Award in 2013.

Since then, some schools across the country have moved to ban phones in classrooms in response to concerns about distractions and excessive screentime, but with 95% of teenagers having access to a smartphone, others have argued that a more effective approach is to set clear guidelines and teach students how to use technology responsibly. Safety and health concerns are also sometimes cited as reasons to allow phones.

What do you think of the proposed changes to FCPS’ phone policy? Should schools accept cellphones as an integral part of many kids’ lives and even a potential teaching tool, or are they just a distraction?

Photo via Adrien/Unsplash

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Herndon High School sign (via FCPS)

In an effort to curb cell phone use, Herndon High School is implementing a school-wide ban on cell phone and headphone use in all classes.

The policy went into effect yesterday (Monday) after what Principal Liz Noto called an “all time high” of student phone use.

Noto offered an update to the school community about the policy change over spring break.

Students will still be able to use their phone during lunch time and passing times, according to the letter. Once class begins, phones must be turned off and put away.

The school outlined a number of exceptions to the rule, including using phones to monitor medical conditions and specific documented learning needs.

Teachers can also provide students with a five-minute phone break during class and use cell phones for specific learning activities.

Here’s more from Noto’s update:

We want you to know that we value your communication with your child. If you need to urgently get in touch with your child and waiting for the end of the class period or for a five-minute cell phone break during class will not suffice, please call the main office at 703-810-2200 and we will help you reach your student.

Teachers will be following through on this new policy very diligently. It is our priority to engage you student in learning and this is a major step toward that goal. Please help reiterate the importance of this new policy with your student. Thank you for your continued support.

FCPS was not immediately available for comment on the policy, but the school system does let students use their personal devices to access the Internet and collaborate with other students during the day, according to its technology policy.

Phones can be pulled out if teachers allow it.

The policy changed in 2011 when cell phones had to be out of sight at all times.

The change comes as counties across the state embrace the potential advantages of cell phone use in academic settings. Suffolk County, for example, encourages students to use cell phones to access information online and play subject-related games.

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Heron House (staff file photo)

(Updated at 3:51 p.m.) A plan to install six antennas for cell phone service at a historic building in Reston’s Lake Anne has failed to pick up steam.

Site Link Wireless proposed installing six concealed antennae on the roof of the Heron House, a 15-story condominium building that is the centerpiece of Lake Anne Village and was built in 1966.

The application was withdrawn after issues were flagged by the Fairfax County’s Architectural Review Board late last year.

Elise Murray, an ARB member, said the proposal was simply too “jarring” to the eye and compromised the architectural integrity of the building.

The Lake Anne Fellowship House — which will be demolished after a new facility is completed by the summer — housed cellular equipment to maintain service by Verizon Wireless and other providers. The facility’s demolition will significantly diminish the cell phone company’s service in the area.

At a Dec. 9 meeting, ARB members raised concerns about the facility, including the lack of cohesiveness of augmented cell phone boxes with the historic building.

Site Link Wireless plans to return to the ARB with an improved plan and with more input from the Lake Anne of Reston Condominium Association’s board.

Rick Novak, who represents Site Link Wireless, said the structures would extend the roof by 14 feet.

LARCA’s board president George Hadjikyriakou said the board is not currently considering the proposal.

“LARCA is not in a position at this time to consider the application, and I believe the county is helping locate another location for this antenna assembly,” he said.

In a Feb. 3 letter, LARCA’s board said it did not support the proposal.

“At this time, the Lake Anne of Reston Condominium Association is not willing to proceed with the possibility of installing an antenna on the Heron House. Sprint currently has an enclosed facility on the building,” LARCA wrote.

The county is working with Site Link Wireless to determine future plans for the facility.

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