Cell phone use may become more limited in CA schools

Cell phone use may become more limited in CA schools

(Calif.) School districts would be required to develop a policy that either prohibits or restricts students’ use of smartphones on school grounds during school hours under a new bill.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, said districts wouldn’t need to ban the use of cellphones entirely. Rather, administrators would develop their own policies that could allow exceptions for emergencies and educational purposes.

Part of the goal of AB 272 is to ensure students are off social media, he said.

“Growing evidence shows excessive smartphone use at school interferes with education, encourages cyberbullying, and may have adverse effects on teenage mental health, including increased rates of depression and suicide,” Muratsuchi said in a statement.  “This bill will require school districts to adopt their own policies that strike a balance between allowing appropriate student use of smartphones while making sure that smartphones are not interfering with a student's educational, social and emotional development.”

Most districts already have some policy dictating when students can and cannot use cellphones on school grounds–but with the rate at which smartphone technology and our reliance on it has shifted, AB 272 could prompt administrators to revisit current policies.

For instance, many districts ask that students keep their phones turned off and in their backpacks during school hours, but some teachers have begun promoting the use of certain educational or group work apps during classroom lessons. Others have said that it’s important for teens to learn to determine when it’s appropriate to put their phones away or to know when the technology should be used to aid in the completion of assignments.

Surveys of educators throughout the country, however, suggest there are still plenty of teachers who have concerns about students using their phones to cheat on exams or distract themselves from class lessons–and perhaps for good reason.

Researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science found in 2015 that test scores improved significantly at schools that banned mobile phone use, especially among at-risk student groups.

Just last year, France adopted a nationwide smartphone ban in all primary and middle schools in order to promote student achievement and healthy social development.

Muratsuchi said that concerns that improving student mental health was one of the reasons he was prompted to introduce AB 272. Studies have shown that in addition to negatively affecting student performance at school, unrestricted cell phone use can be linked to anxiety and depression in teens, as well as increased instances of cyberbullying and suicide rates.

Results from a 2017 survey from Common Sense Media found that the number of 14 to 17 year olds experiencing clinical level depression in the last year jumped more than 60 percent between 2009 and 2017, with a 47 percent increase among 12 to 13 year-olds.

And teens who reported spending five or more hours a day on social media were twice as likely to be depressed as those not using social media.

The same report also highlighted just how much more common smart phones are in the home. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 95 percent of families with children ages 8 and younger now have smartphones–a steep increase from 63 percent in 2013.

AB 272 will be heard in the Assembly Education Committee next week.

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