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LA Unified School District approves strict student cellphone ban. How to do it comes next

Howard Blume and Defne Karabatur, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles school board on Tuesday set in motion a plan to ban cellphones all day on campus — saying the devices distract students from learning, lead to anxiety and allow for cyberbullying.

The ban would take effect in January 2025 after details are approved in a future meeting by the Board of Education, with the goal of enforcing it across a student’s entire time at school, including lunch and breaks.

The proposal was spearheaded by school board member Nick Melvoin.

“Our students are glued to their cellphones, not unlike adults,” Melvoin said. “They’re surreptitiously scrolling in school, in class time, or have their head in their hands, walking down the hallways. They’re not talking to each other or playing at lunch or recess because they have their AirPods in.”

Board President Jackie Goldberg co-sponsored the resolution along with board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin.

Goldberg recounted a recent visit to a high school where students sitting together at a table during lunch were communicating only via their phones and not through conversation.

The resolution was approved 5 to 2. Board member George McKenna voted no over concerns about the totality of the ban, although he said he was open to ongoing discussion of the matter. Board member Scott Schmerelson also objected because he said it was important to make a distinction between instructional time and noninstructional time.

Elements to be worked out include different approaches for various age groups and a range of technologies, such as smartwatches.

Franklin noted that students sometimes use smartphones as backup computers for classwork and that schools would need options for such situations. Board member Kelly Gonez, who voted yes, noted that recent immigrants use smartphones for translation purposes. Such allowances would need to be considered, she said.

Options to carry out the ban under consideration include providing cellphone lockers or pouches that keep devices locked up and inaccessible until they’re tapped against a magnetic device when exiting campus. Technology also could be used to block access to social media platforms.

Some parents, however, want their children to have cellphones for safety and communication and school administrators say the ban could be difficult to enforce.

Supporters who spoke Tuesday included a district middle school principal who said such a ban has improved the learning environment at his campus.

One elementary principal noted on the Facebook group Parents Supporting Teachers that she does not “see the need for Apple watches and cellphones on our young students. Now, as a parent of an LAUSD high school student who sometimes walks home, I DO see the need. It is a safety issue. All in all, I think they cause a lot of unnecessary drama on campuses, but need my HS student to have hers.”

AnneMarie Fulton noted on the Facebook group that her daughter will be starting middle school “10 miles from our home. I don’t want her to not have access to call me if needed. I’m strict on phone usage anyway, but taking that ability to contact away from a child doesn’t exactly seem right.”

 

Anti-police activists have concerns.

“In the past, some students have used phones to capture criminalization or police violence like incidents of arrest or pepper-spraying of students at schools, or (to) connect with their parents or lawyers/advocates when their rights were being violated,” said Joseph Williams, the director of Students Deserve, which recruits and assists student activists.

There are also parents and employees who support the proposal.

The resolution did not specify a penalty, but the most obvious response to a violation would be for a phone to be confiscated for a period of time deemed appropriate.

Although Melvoin acknowledges that his own observations about the harms of cellphones are anecdotal, the board resolution cites research in line with the proposed policy.

The resolution cites a national survey on drug use and health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that found that among those born after 1995, anxiety increased 139% from 2010 to 2020, coinciding with the rise in smartphones and social media.

Researchers note that a correlation between two trends does not mean that one caused the other.

In addition, the U.S. surgeon general wrote in a 2023 advisory that social media may be linked to a growing mental health crisis among teens.

Current policy sets out that “approved social media is to be used at school for educational purposes only and under the direction of a teacher or school leader. Home use of social media on district or personal electronic devices is limited to only sites approved by the district’s web filtering system.”

The resolution also cites a 2016 Common Sense Media survey that found half of teens feel “addicted” to their phones. A 2023 study of 200 students by the same group found that 97% of 11- to 17-year-olds used their phones during the school day.

The resolution also states that there is evidence that “limiting cellphone usage and social media access during the school day increases academic performance and has positive effects on student mental health.”

California Assembly Bill 3216, introduced in February, would require school districts to adopt a policy to limit or prohibit the student use of smartphones while at school or under the supervision of a school employee. The law would go into effect July 1, 2026.

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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