In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the globe underwent unprecedented changes, and Rogers Park Middle School in Danbury, CT, was no exception. In response to a surge in disciplinary incidents post-COVID, I found myself faced with the challenge of overhauling our cell phone policy to meet the evolving needs and behaviors of our students—all 1,000 of them. This policy overhaul was informed by collaborative discussions among the administrative team, teachers, and students. The resultant policy restricted students’ cell phone use in classrooms and other areas of the school, which has led to a significant positive impact on student behavior and the overall school climate.

A Flexible, Pre-COVID Cell Phone Policy


Before the pandemic, our school’s policy allowed students to use their phones according to teacher guidelines within classrooms and freely during lunchtime. This policy extended to permitting students to carry their cell phones at all times, was generally lenient, and reflected the prevalent approach in many schools at the time. We aimed to strike a balance between incorporating technology into learning and respecting students’ autonomy as they learned to take responsibility and ownership for their actions.

However, as the pandemic disrupted traditional learning environments, our school, like many others, had to embrace remote and hybrid learning. When we finally returned to full, in-person learning in the fall of 2021, our pre-COVID open approach led to a host of issues that began to impede our school’s learning environment and community cohesion. The transition highlighted various challenges, including an exponential increase in discipline referrals and behaviors detrimental to the learning environment.

Upon returning to full, in-person learning for the 2021–22 school year, we witnessed a sharp rise in office discipline referrals (ODR) linked to a range of disruptive behaviors, including physical altercations, fights, social media harassment, and overall disrespect and defiance. The situation was particularly pronounced among the seventh-grade cohort, which generated the highest number of ODRs, reflecting a pattern of escalated behavior issues. Time after time, our investigations led us to find student-posted videos taken during school, inflammatory texts that occurred both during class and when students left to use the bathroom, and social media posts that encouraged violence and property damage as if it were a game. This alarming trend necessitated a comprehensive evaluation of the existing cell phone policy to identify its role in exacerbating the issues at hand and prompted our administrative team to seek proactive measures for the upcoming school year.

A Proactive Approach

Recognizing the urgent need for change and in preparation for the 2022–23 school year, I, along with my two assistant principals, embarked on a proactive approach to address the escalating disciplinary challenges. Recognizing the need for collaborative decisionmaking, the team engaged small mixed groups of teachers and students in meaningful discussions. These discussions revealed an overwhelming consensus that limiting or completely banning cell phones could significantly alleviate disruptions and foster a healthier learning environment. Both teachers and students recognized the adverse effects of unrestricted access to electronic devices, particularly cell phones. Together, we sought solutions to address the prevailing challenges.

Implementing a uniform cell phone policy across all classrooms creates a cohesive environment and reduces the burden on teachers to manage varying rules.

After extensive deliberation, we reached a decision to prohibit cell phone use in classrooms entirely, a departure from the previous approach where individual teachers had the discretion to set their guidelines. Students were required to store their cell phones in their backpacks or in the hanging cell phone caddies we purchased for each teacher, and they were not permitted to bring them to the bathroom. Cell phones were allowed only during the brief transition periods between classes to check their schedule and during lunch. Violations of the policy resulted in the temporary confiscation of the device, with repeat offenders required to surrender their cell phones to administrators at the start of each day for various lengths of time depending on their infraction.

The implementation of the revised cell phone policy yielded a series of positive outcomes that significantly impacted both the school’s climate and student behavior. Notably, the current eighth grade students showed remarkable improvements in their behavior from the previous year. The new policy reduced instances of distraction, social media harassment, and overall disrespect, leading to a more conducive learning environment that reflected a shift toward a more respectful and focused approach to learning.

Principal Kristy Zaleta with students at Rogers Park Middle School.

Parents and the broader community also expressed appreciation for the new policy, as it addressed concerns about the potential negative impact of unrestricted cell phone use on students’ well-being and their interactions with peers. With limited cell phone access, Rogers Park not only enhanced academic engagement but also nurtured healthier peer interactions and reduced instances of cyberbullying and harassment. The overall school climate improved significantly, with a greater sense of focus and respect permeating the classrooms and hallways.

Suggestions for School Leaders Considering Similar Changes

Our experience may offer valuable insights to school leaders contemplating a similar shift in cell phone policies. We suggest six steps for making this change:

1.  Seek stakeholder input. Involve teachers, students, and parents in conversations about your school’s cell phone policy. Their insights and perspectives are invaluable in shaping effective strategies that address the unique needs and challenges of your school community.

2.  Use data-driven analysis for a tailored approach. Rely on data and evidence, including disciplinary data and incident reports, to identify trends and patterns that might necessitate policy changes. A thorough understanding of the challenges is crucial for crafting an effective solution. Our decision was based on a surge in disruptive behaviors, emphasizing the importance of aligning policy adjustments with concrete issues.

3.  Engage in collaborative decisionmaking. Involve stakeholders, including teachers, students, parents, and administrators, in the policy formulation process. This inclusive approach ensures diverse perspectives are considered, leading to a more balanced and effective policy.

4.  Clearly communicate. Explain the rationale behind the policy change to students and parents, clarifying expectations, consequences, and benefits. Highlight the benefits of reduced distractions and improved focus on learning. This approach helps manage expectations and fosters a sense of ownership among students. Transparency can also help mitigate potential resistance and foster support from all stakeholders.

5.  Ensure consistent implementation. Implementing a uniform cell phone policy across all classrooms creates a cohesive environment and reduces the burden on teachers to manage varying rules. Ensure the policy is consistently implemented across all grade levels and in all classrooms. Consistency is key to fostering a sense of fairness and accountability among students.

6.  Monitor and adapt. Continuously monitor the impact of the new policy on student behavior, academic performance, and the overall school climate. Be open to refining the policy based on real-world outcomes and feedback from the school community.


Our journey from an open cell phone policy to our current restrictions is a testament to the power of collaboration, data-driven decisionmaking, and a commitment to fostering a positive learning environment. By recognizing the disruptive impact of unchecked cell phone use and responding with a targeted policy adjustment, we have witnessed improvements in student behavior and have been able to foster a more focused, respectful, and engaging school environment. As school leaders across the nation grapple with similar issues, I hope our school’s experience offers a guiding light toward effectively managing student cell phone use and promoting positive behavior within the classroom.

Kristy Zaleta, EdD, is the principal of Rogers Park Middle School in Danbury, CT.