Virginia joins other states in efforts to restrict cell phones in schools

Virginia joins other states in efforts to restrict cell phones in schools

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Virginia on Tuesday joined a growing number of states pushing for restrictions on cellphones in public schools, citing concerns about students’ academic performance and mental health.

Governor Glenn Youngkin has issued an executive order establishing guidelines and model policies that local school systems must adopt by January.

“Studies show that students who use their phones during class learn less and get lower grades,” Youngkin’s order said. It also cited an “alarming mental health crisis” among adolescents, driven in part by cellphones and social media.

Last year, Florida became the first state to crack down on phones in schools with a new law. Indiana and Ohio passed their own laws this year, while several other states have recently introduced legislation known as “phone-free schools.”

The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 76% of public schools banned “nonacademic use of cell phones” during the 2021-2022 school year.

In Virginia, school districts are increasingly banning or restricting students’ use of phones. For example, Loudoun County Public Schools in Northern Virginia adopted a new policy last month that generally prohibits elementary school students from using phones during the school day.

High school students are allowed to use their phones before or after school, but otherwise are expected to keep their phones in their lockers. In high school, students are expected to silence their phones and place them in a classroom or storage area during class time.

Dan Adams, a spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools, said the school system will have to wait and see what specific guidelines come from the state. But he said the school system “is confident that our policies are age-appropriate and address electronics-free instructional time.”

The school board for Hanover County Public Schools, outside Richmond, has been looking at the issue extensively in recent months, and the plan was to discuss it at a board meeting Tuesday, Assistant Superintendent Chris Whitley said.

In the state capital, Richmond, Youngkin’s order received the full support of the superintendent of the public schools.

“Last year, we piloted a cell phone ban in a number of high schools and saw increased student engagement in class and fewer distractions throughout the day,” said Jason Kamras. “In addition, students reported spending more time talking to their classmates.”

James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, called on the state to “approach this issue with a nuanced perspective.”

“Our priority remains ensuring that policies are practical, enforceable, and in the best interests of our educators, students, and families,” he said in a statement.

Youngkin’s executive order calls for gathering public input through listening sessions, while other steps include drafting a detailed definition of “cell phone-free education.”

Todd Reid, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, said in an email that school boards must adopt policies by Jan. 1.

“In a legal sense, think of ‘guidelines’ as a synonym for ‘regulation,’” he wrote. “We will go through the official rulemaking process.”

But executive decisions on local education policy are often difficult to enforce.

Last year, the Youngkin administration finalized regulations outlining policies for transgender students, including a rule that banned transgender girls from participating on girls’ sports teams. Some local school systems resisted adopting the regulations, criticizing them as discriminatory.

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Diaz reported from Washington. Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia.