Parents and teachers know how distracting cell phones can be for kids, not to mention the disturbing influence social media can have on young minds. studies have shown.
Pointing out these negative effects, a Utah lawmaker believes that classrooms should be a device-free zone, and he is drafting a bill to include such a ban in the Utah code.
with HB270Rep. Trevor Lee of West Jordan wants to ban cell phones and smart watches in K-12 classrooms.
“There are a lot of harmful side effects that we see from cell phones when it comes to children,” Lee said. “We’re seeing a massive increase in mental health issues stemming from phone use … in the current public education system.”
Lee continued, “I just don’t see any benefit or reason why anyone should have their cell phone turned off during lectures or class discussions.” He hopes to empower teachers and allow the law to “strengthen them” in terms of banning the use of cell phones and smart watches in their classrooms.
Lee said teachers, superintendents and school districts have supported the bill. It is necessary to make sure that time with teachers is used as efficiently as possible, he believes.
Lee addressed the biggest concern of parents and teachers — what happens when a school shooter walks into a classroom and kids need to contact their parents?
“First of all,” he said, “a phone doesn’t do anything with a school shooter in the classroom.”
For students in other classrooms, their devices will be in the room with them, available for students to use during an emergency, Lee said.
Lee also sees the ability of Utah teachers to be armed and carry weapons in the classroom as a deterrent.
The bill allows school boards to discuss and decide how to enforce the policy in their districts. This will result in different policies being enforced in the junior and senior classes.
In elementary classes, the use of mobile phones and smart watches will be completely prohibited, they will be placed in lockers or cubicles in the classroom.
In grades 7-12, cell phones and smart watches will be allowed between classes and during lunch.
Bolinda Murray, principal at Cedar Middle School, is concerned that the bill does not address the specific needs of middle schools, particularly middle schools that also serve sixth form students. She noted that her school already has a cell phone policy that works well for her students.
“Why should this be a law when many schools already have a (phone) policy?” she asked.
“We have a pretty strict cell phone policy, which we like because of the impact of social media on students,” she said.
Cedar High School does not allow telephone use during the school day. This includes lunch and time between classes.
“What I see in other schools is that the students are not talking, they are not playing with each other, they are not interacting because they are talking on their cell phones,” she said.
“While I agree with why lawmakers are looking at this, because I think (cell phones and smartwatches) are very distracting,” Murray said, “if this bill passes, we would have to allow (devices) during lunch and transfer periods, which is a concern for us with middle school students.”
“High school is often lumped into high school, but we’re different,” she said.
However, Lee said, the bill acts as a guideline for schools that do not have a cell phone policy and creates an opportunity for teachers to uphold the Utah law. School boards will be able to listen to the needs of their schools, so current school policies should not change, unless there is no policy on mobile phones and smart watches.
Murray also had concerns about the bill’s funding and implementation.
Phone lockers, she said, can be expensive, and she worries about where the funds will come from and how to get them to each classroom.
The bill could have a broad financial impact on schools. Legislative fiscal analysts estimated that their student storage could cost between $273,000 and more than $10.9 million, or $15 to $15 per classroom and device, depending on storage capacity. Lee said he is seeking grant funding to reimburse the schools if the bill is approved.
Murray expressed concern that the school board also decides how the implementation will be done. “Our school board has always allowed us to address these issues on a school-by-school basis,” she said, but she explained that different schools have different needs for students, especially at the high school where mental health issues are so high. In school districts where school boards are stricter, that policy may not work, she said.
Lee hopes that giving school boards the power to create policies for their schools will allow for further conversation between them on cell phone and smartwatch policies.
“Teachers (and school boards) will have the law to back them up,” Lee said.
Jocelyn Cummings, an art teacher at Mountain Ridge High School, shared Murray’s views.
“Overall, I think it (the bill) is a good idea, but there are a lot of logistics that need to be done,” she said.
She said that in her class, art projects are often turned in using a cell phone to take pictures of their assignments and send them. Banning cell phones in the classroom would force Cummings to rethink teaching policies and the environment.
Cummings also questioned the ability of students to put their phones in bins or lockers at the start of class, as the bill suggests.
“I tried to do it my freshman year,” she said, and most students ignore the policy or pretend they don’t have phones.
“It still serves the same purpose as them not having phones,” she said. “But I think it’s going to be a daily struggle for the high schoolers who are glued to (them).”
“It’s going to be difficult for a lot of these schools at first,” Lee said, but over time, students will realize that the classroom has no place for cell phones and smart watches.
The bill is not yet on the agenda for a committee hearing, but Lee hopes it will be discussed soon.