Petersburg looking to explore new method to keep students off phones in school

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Posted at 11:10 PM, Nov 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-16 23:13:24-05

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Finding ways to keep kids focused in school and off their phones is a new step that the Petersburg school district is looking to explore.

Leaders in the district say curtailing cell phone use is needed because cell phones are causing disruptions, learning distractions, and contribute to cyberbullying.

They believe a phone-free concept contributes to increasing student outcomes.

The district held a webinar for parents Thursday night explaining a pilot program they would like to propose: a locked phone pouch program in select schools.

They explained how they are connecting with national company Yondr to explore if their locked phone pouch program would be a good fit.

The program puts cell phones in a magnetized pouch that can be sealed shut at points of entry in the school.

The pouch is kept on the student during the day and opened by a magnet when students leave the school building for the day, according to the district's presentation.

The program is already in the works in some Central Virginia schools.

Richmond Public Schools plan to pilot the program in select schools come January, while Hopewell schools have been using the program since the start of the school year

Petersburg leaders said they’ve worked with Hopewell closely to see what the impact in their schools has been.

“They said students were able to get more instruction time, able to behave better, and show improvement in their grades,” said Principal Mandelia Fisher.

According to school leaders, the district will spend the next two and a half weeks surveying parents, teachers, and students. They plan to collect that feedback before they present their proposal and feedback to the school board on December 6.

They are suggesting implementing the pilot program for 7th and 8th graders at Vernon Johns Middle School, 6th graders at Blandford Academy, and 6th -12th graders at Pittman Academy.

“It will increase and build meaningful connections between students and teachers and will reduce distractions and help create a positive school climate,” said Fisher.

The district acknowledged there may be concerns surrounding how cell phones are currently used during the school day.

They said phones will remain safe because they will remain on the student in the pouches. The district said parents will still be able to communicate with their children through the front office, and they added that the school will contact parents if there is an emergency

“As a parent and grandparent, I can understand where there may be reservations regarding accessing our children directly. However, community action and access will continue as we have phones in every classroom and provide many with our cell numbers,” said Principal Trina Mitchener.

District leaders are calling on parents to get involved and give feedback. Parents can do so by filling out the survey sent through Parent Square or by sending an email to

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