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LAUSD Board to Consider Ban on Cell Phones, Social Media During School Day

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Calling it an effort to support student mental health and learning, a Los Angeles Unified School District board member Tuesday will ask his colleague to back a resolution calling for the district to prohibit students’ use of cell phones and social media through the entire school day.

Board member Nick Melvoin said the resolution is aimed at combating cyberbullying and promoting focus and concentration in classroom. The proposal cites research indicating the impacts of excessive cell phone use associated with increased stress, anxiety, depression, sleep issues, feelings of aggression, and suicidal thoughts in adolescents.

But some parents are balking at the idea, saying they want their children to have access to phones in case of emergencies.

The resolution — co-sponsored by board members Jackie Goldberg and Tanya Ortiz Franklin — contends that students’ use of cell phones “can stifle meaningful in-person interaction and enable cyberbullying.”

“According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16% of U.S. high school students in 2021 said they had been bullied via text message or social media platforms over the previous year,” according to the resolution.

“… While headphones and earbuds are tools to promote focus and concentration in the classroom, students use them with their cell phones all day and may become reliant on them — stifling student interaction with their peers and limiting classroom engagement,” the resolution states.

According to the document, research has determined that eliminating cell phone and social media usage during the day has been shown to increase scores on standardized tests and final exams, gains that are “equivalent to an additional hour of instructional time per week.”

The resolution notes that Florida implemented rules in 2023 prohibiting student cell phone use during instructional time, and Oklahoma, Kansas, Vermont, Ohio, Louisiana and Pennsylvania are considering similar measures.

A bill pending in the California Legislature would require school districts to adopt measures prohibiting or limiting students’ use of phones while at schools.

If passed, the resolution calls on staff to return within 120 days with proposed new policies to prohibit student smartphone and social media use “during the entire school day.” The resolution directs staff to gather input from experts in the field, labor partners, staff, students and parents within 120 days.

It was not immediately clear how such restrictions would be enforced. The Los Angeles Times reported that options under consideration include providing lockers or pouches to keep devices inaccessible until they’re tapped against a magnetic device when exiting campus, assessing use of text/voice-only phones and smartwatches, and using technology to block access to social media platforms.

The policy has garnered mixed reactions from parents and students who have taken to social media to discuss their concerns.

“If they take away the phones then there needs to be a way on monitoring the classroom for safety,” one person posted on social media. “Some teachers and students abuse other students and there needs to be a way of documenting evidence.”

Another posted, “This is good news; however, they should also think of measures to prevent students from using their tablets and Chromebooks for non-academic purposes in the classroom.”

Several people expressed concerns about the availability of cell phone in cases of emergency. The proposal, however, suggest that experts have indicated that the use of cell phones by students could potentially decrease school safety during certain emergencies, through the spread of misinformation or interfering with official communications and directions to students.

Calling the system “the problem,” one online critic suggested, “In case of emergencies cell phones are most definitely needed. The problem is not the phone.”

Melvoin told The Times more kids are getting phones at younger ages.

“They’re bringing them to campus. And then I don’t remember as much phone-based drug sales. Or coordinating fights or some of the cyberbullying,” he said.

According to The Times, discussions on the Facebook group Parents Supporting Teachers also echoed mixed reactions from parents and teachers.

One member of the group, Rebeca Chaidez Nevarez, wrote, As teacher and parent, I agree! No cell phones please!

A fifth-grade teacher, Ismael Morales, also a member of the group wrote, “I understand that parents use (cell phones) to reach out to them, but we do our best to keep students safe as such.” Morales noted that contacting the school office or teachers would be an alternative to kids using phones.

Melvoin also raised the issue of cell phones being used to set up fights, then film them and post the video online.

“We’re finding more and more things are being arranged via Instagram direct message or texting during the school day,” he told The Times. He said key evidence at confidential expulsion hearings sometimes include students’ text messages.

Melvoin noted that the existing policy on use of electronic devices, which has not been updated since 2011, restricts the use of “cellular phones, pagers, or any electronic signaling device by students on campus during normal school hours or school activities, excluding the students’ lunchtime or nutrition breaks.”

The resolution seeks to have new rules in place by January.

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