California legislators weigh strict limits on cellphones in schools
- California school districts would have to develop policies that restrict or ban students from using their cellphones at school, with a few exceptions, under a bill the State Assembly’s Education Committee is currently considering.
- Assembly Bill 272’s sponsor, Democrat Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, cites research by organizations such as Common Sense Media, which states that 95% of families with children ages 8 and under have smartphones and that “unrestricted use” can contribute to lower academic achievement, social and emotional struggles, and bullying.
- The legislation says students would be able to use their phones in an emergency if a teacher or administrator gives permission, or if a physician determines that having access to a phone is important for a student’s health or well-being.
Many — if not most school districts — already have policies in place that apply to students’ use of cellphones, which could lead local district leaders to view this bill as redundant or as an attempt to interfere with local control. Most educators, however, don’t want to have to compete with digital distractions during the school day, which is why more districts are taking a harder line against cellphone use by students. In addition, some research points to the negative effects of using devices in the classroom, even for educational purposes.
In practice, however, teachers have a wide variety of opinions on the use of cellphones in class, with some arguing that it’s important for students to learn to turn off their devices during a lesson or to know how apps and tools can help them with assignments and staying organized. Others, however, raise concerns about cheating, students watching Netflix or other uses that take away from time for learning.
School leaders know that cellphone bans can be difficult to enforce and can tie up administrators’ time in handling frequent violations. That’s why some have aimed to put compromises in place that give students’ limited use while also reinforcing digital citizenship skills.
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