State legislators advocate for a ban on phones in schools


State lawmakers across the country are embroiled in a contentious debate over the use of cell phones in schools, a hot-button issue that has garnered significant attention from educators and policymakers alike.

In Florida and Indiana, legislation mandating public schools to prohibit students from using cell phones during class has already been enacted. Meanwhile, states including Oklahoma, Washington, Kansas, Vermont, Connecticut, Virginia, and South Carolina have introduced bills aimed at restricting cell phone usage on school grounds this year. Notably, Georgia lawmakers have proposed legislation specifically targeting students’ access to social media platforms while at school. The push for stricter regulations comes amid growing concerns over the impact of digital distractions on academic performance and student well-being.

Utah Republican Governor Spencer Cox recently urged school leaders statewide to implement bans on cell phones in classrooms, underscoring a trend towards more stringent policies regarding digital device use among students. In Minnesota, lawmakers recently passed an education bill that mandates school districts to formulate comprehensive phone policies. The Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association and the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals are collaborating to provide schools with guidelines aimed at mitigating the disruptive effects of cell phones on student behavior, mental health, and academic achievement.

At Two Rivers High School in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, proactive measures have already been put into effect. Partnering with the nonprofit organization LiveMore ScreenLess since 2022, the school engaged students, teachers, parents, and school leaders in discussions that led to the adoption of a new phone policy. Under this policy, students are permitted to use their phones only during lunch breaks, with strict prohibitions against their use during class hours. Non-compliance results in confiscation, a measure aimed at minimizing distractions and fostering a conducive learning environment.

Feedback from teachers at Two Rivers High School indicates a positive impact since the implementation of the policy. “I definitely saw a difference in my students this year, and it was far more enjoyable to teach when students did not have the distraction of the phone,” shared one educator.

Katherine Myers, executive director at LiveMore ScreenLess and a former teacher, emphasizes the importance of balanced and intentional use of technology. Recognizing the benefits and pitfalls of digital devices, Myers advocates for education and awareness among both students and educators. LiveMore ScreenLess has spearheaded initiatives like digital wellbeing clubs in Minneapolis schools, including Two Rivers High School, where students gather monthly to discuss strategies for maintaining healthy relationships with technology.

Despite these efforts, challenges persist. Evangeline Fuentes, a junior at Two Rivers High School and member of the digital wellbeing club, acknowledges her struggle with self-control regarding phone usage. “A phone isn’t all bad,” Fuentes reflects, noting the allure of social media and its impact on personal interactions. However, she acknowledges the benefits of the school’s stricter policy, which has reduced her screen time and enhanced her focus during class.

Recognizing the broader implications of unrestricted phone use, LiveMore ScreenLess awarded Two Rivers High School the Commitment to Digital Wellbeing Excellence Award. Principal Dr. Albert Johnson’s leadership in implementing effective phone policies has been pivotal, with 90% of educators reporting increased student engagement since the reforms were enacted.

Elsewhere, schools like Maple Grove Middle School in Minnesota have taken even stricter measures. Principal Patrick Smith recalls incidents of students leaving class to create TikTok videos or instigate conflicts via text messages. “We see the phone, we take it,” Smith asserts, highlighting the immediate impact of their stringent policy on student conduct and academic performance.

However, such policies have not been without controversy. Khulia Pringle, Minnesota State Director of the National Parents Union, raises concerns about blanket bans and suggests that schools should engage students in developing phone policies that strike a balance between educational objectives and student safety. While acknowledging the need to limit phone usage, Pringle underscores the importance of phones in emergency situations, citing incidents where students used phones to communicate during crises.

Pringle’s sentiments reflect a broader societal concern about the role of technology in schools and its impact on student development. As debates over cell phone policies continue to unfold across the nation, educators, lawmakers, and parents grapple with finding the right balance between harnessing the benefits of technology and mitigating its potential drawbacks in educational settings. The outcome of these deliberations will likely shape the future landscape of digital device use in schools for years to come.


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