Bill would require study of mental, academic effects of cellphone use on students in classrooms

Senate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have drawn up legislation requiring the U.S. Department of Education to complete a study on the effects of cellphone use in K-12 classrooms on students’ mental health and academic performance.

Since learning levels plunged during the pandemic, lawmakers say an official examination of the effects of cellphones has become urgent

“We’ve made a lot of progress in our recovery from the depths of the pandemic. But there’s much more work to be done to help students overcome learning loss and excel in the classroom,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat and member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“That includes looking into how cellphone use in schools is impacting students’ mental health and their ability to learn. This bill would help us do that, by gathering information and providing it to schools as they grapple with students’ use of cellphones in class and how to best set them up for success.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican and a co-sponsor of the bill, called widespread use of cellphones in schools “a distraction” at best.

“At worst, they expose schoolchildren to content that is harmful and addictive,” Mr. Cotton said. “Our legislation will make schools remain centers of learning.”

The legislation authorizes $5 million annually for the next five years for a study that includes a pilot program established by the bill that will provide schools with secure containers for students to store phones during school hours.

The Education Department will gather input from parents, students, and educators to select pilot programs. The program, however, will allow exceptions for students with health conditions, disabilities and non-English speakers.

Additionally, schools participating in the pilot program will have access to a communication system that enables teachers, administrators and staff to communicate with local emergency responders.

Wrenching cellphones out of young Americans’ hands during the school day has been an ongoing debate for over a decade. While some districts over the years have allowed students to use them to reach family and for classwork or some combination of the two, the devices have become an overbearing distraction, particularly in the age of social media.  

According to the nonprofit group Common Sense Media, almost half of U.S. children have a cellphone by age 10. By 14, that percentage increases to 91%.

However, national concern over American students’ math and reading skills as well as state and federal lawmakers’ warnings about the dangers of social media harming young peoples’ minds have prompted different school districts around the country to launch protocols to keep student cellphones off and out of the classrooms.

Six public schools in Richmond are about to start a second semester in January with a new no-cellphone policy after concerns about students’ safety and mental health became top priorities, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Students will be required to lock their cellphones in magnetic pouches at the beginning of every school day and can unlock the pouches to retrieve their phones at the end of the day.

Teachers are reportedly excited about the cellphone ban. According to a survey sent to school staff at the six pilot schools, 97% said student cellphone use is a problem, and 86% said the no-phone policy would help.

Last week, the Cape Girardeau, Missouri, school board voted overwhelmingly to restrict cellphones in the school district starting in January, KFVS-TV 12 reported.

Similar to the protocols taken in the Richmond schools, students must place their phones in a special device, called YONDR, a secured fabric pouch that will store the phones for the entire school day.

Each student will be given their own pouch to take to and from school each day, and magnetic bases, which can unlock the pouches, will be available to students when they exit the building.

In May, Florida passed a law requiring public school districts to prohibit student cellphone use during class time. Orange County Public Schools passed more stringent policies and banned students from using cell phones throughout the day.

However, others caution that taking cell phones away from students for the entire day leaves students and parents powerless to expose problems happening in public schools.

For example, during the pandemic, when schools went exclusively online, parents caught a glimpse of the curriculum that their children were being taught and many fought against their school boards because of what they witnessed.

Wichita High School parent Steve Curbelo told KWCH-TV 12 in Kansas that cellphones are sometimes used to record videos of school fights that are later uploaded to social media.

“You have the expectation of your child going to school and they’re going to be safe, even says it in the student conduct book. I wouldn’t know about [the issues with fights at schools] if I hadn’t seen the videos,” Mr. Curbelo said.

Source: WT