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K-12 education

States weigh school cell phone bans atop district policies

Educators are pursuing creative tactics to limit their students' cell phone use in class. Some students are required to leave their phones in lockers, others store their phones in pouches that cannot be accessed until the end of the day. And of course there is the honor system.

Although teachers have been battling for their students' attention for many years now, some policymakers are catching up to the problem. Three states recently passed laws banning or restricting cell phone use in schools. Florida was the first to do so in 2023.

Not all restrictions look the same: Some schools allow students to use their phones during lunch and in between classrooms, while others ban any use in school buildings.

Here is how states are approaching cell phone bans in schools:

States that have passed cell phone bans

As of the 2021-2022 school year, more 75% of K-12 public school prohibit cell phone use in schools,

Last year, Florida became the first state that required its public schools to ban students from using phones in class. In 2024 alone, lawmakers in at least eight states have considered passing legislation to do the same.

signed a bill that requires school districts to limit cell phone use during class time. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a similar bill in May that requires every school district to establish an official policy governing cell phone usage during school hours.

Oklahoma, Washington, Kansas and Vermont and Connecticut have all introduced similar legislation.

Cell phones distract students throughout the school day

Kris Hagel is the Chief Information Office at Peninsula School District, in Washington state. The district is home to 17 schools and serves about 8,700 students. Hagel said the school district was getting complaints of distracted students from parents, principals, teachers, even fellow students.

"Every classroom we went in the kids weren't paying attention to the teachers. They were on their phones, they were distracted. Even if they weren't on their phones, they're getting notifications." Hagel said.

Last school year, the district implemented a restriction on phones in classrooms and Hagel said the change in student engagement levels is noticeable.

According to previous reporting from 91影视, a Common Sense Media聽聽of a small group of adolescents found they received nearly 240 cellphone notifications over the course of the day, a fourth of them during school.聽

Cell phones distract those young and old: findings from a of college students in 37 states and Alberta, Canada. The average respondent spent 19% of their class time engaged with a smart device for non-class use.

Schools don't want cell phones:Is banning them the solution?

Students react to phone bans

Those who are supportive of phone-free schools say academic success and the emotional well-being of students is improving.

At the same time, parents have concerns about school safety. A one-size-fits all approach to phone bans may not be an effective policy, some administrators say.

鈥淧hones are a part of everyday life,鈥 Shahad Mohieldin, a program coordinator for the Young Women鈥檚 Project, previously told 91影视. Mohieldin started a聽聽challenging a ban at several D.C. schools. 鈥淚 understand they can be distracting,鈥 but students use their phones as calculators, to play music to stay focused or even connect with a therapist during the school day.聽

Contributing: Alia Wong

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