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Momentum grows for ban on use of smartphones in high school

A nationwide movement to ban smartphone use in U.S. schools is gaining traction, as the nation’s second-largest school district has approved a “phone-free” policy during school days to support students’ academic success and well-being.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) voted on Tuesday to implement the ban, which will take effect in January next year, according to the district’s news release.

Citing research findings, the LAUSD, which enrolls more than 429,000 students in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade, blamed smartphones and social media for distracting students from learning, harming their mental health, and stifling in-person social connections.

“Cell phone use in schools has gotten out of control,” said Board President Jackie Goldberg in a statement. “It’s gotten to the point that students don’t talk face to face, but instead text one another when they’re sitting right next to each other.”

Board Member Tanya Ortiz Franklin, who co-sponsored the resolution, said it broke her heart seeing “students sitting alone, isolated on their phones instead of engaging and learning with their peers.”

The board is considering several options to implement the ban, including providing cell phone storage such as locked pouches or cell phone lockers. Other options under consideration include using technological means to restrict access to social media platforms.

The school district’s action reflects the growing campaigns in California to restrict or eliminate cellphone use at schools amid reports about the rising anxiety and other harms that students are experiencing.

On Monday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned that social media use has become so prevalent and potentially damaging among young people that Congress should require warning labels on online platforms.

In 2019, the California Assembly introduced a bill, AB 272, encouraging school districts to develop and adopt policies that limit or prohibit student use of smartphones during school hours.

In February this year, the state assembly introduced another bill, AB 3216, which would require school districts to adopt a policy to limit or prohibit student use of smartphones while at school or under the supervision of a school employee. The law would go into effect on July 1, 2026.

The campaign has the support of California Governor Gavin Newsom. Also on Tuesday, Newsom called for a statewide ban on smartphone use in California schools to curb cyberbullying and classroom distraction by limiting access to smartphones.

He said he planned to work this summer with state lawmakers to dramatically restrict phone use during the school day in the nation’s most populous state, according to a report by the New York Times.

This initiative in California aligns with a growing national effort to limit smartphone use in schools. Districts and schools across the country have adopted policies restricting student smartphone use during the school day.

Starting in 2023, public schools in Florida began prohibiting student phone use during instructional time and blocking students’ access to social media on district Wi-Fi. Florida became the first state in the nation to mandate a ban on cell phone use in classrooms.

Indiana followed suit with a law that will take effect in the 2024-2025 school year. Ohio’s legislation, enacted in May 2024, requires school districts to create policies to minimize cell phone use.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul is expected to introduce a bill later this year banning smartphones in schools — the latest in a series of such legislative moves.

A new survey echoed the concerns of these state leaders. The report released last week by the Pew Research Center revealed that 72 percent of U.S. high school teachers said cellphone distraction was a major problem in the classroom.

Many schools and districts have tried to address this challenge by implementing cellphone policies, such as requiring students to turn off their phones during class or give them to administrators during the school day. However, 60 percent of high school teachers, whose schools have a cellphone policy, said it was difficult to enforce the policies, according to the survey. ■

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