IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Monterey School Administrators Talk Impending Cellphone Ban

As the California legislature works on a bill to restrict cellphone usage in classrooms, school administrators who have seen kids addicted to their phones at young ages are open to the idea and hope it provides guidance.

Los Arboles Middle School
Los Arboles Middle School has experimented with Yondr pouches, a place where students place their phones at the beginning of the day and get them back once the school day ends.
Tom Wright/Monterey Herald/TNS
(TNS) — If you were to walk into an average high school classroom, almost every teenager would have a smartphone in their pocket. But how many of them inevitably take their phone out each time it buzzes?

To counteract this distraction, Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced he plans to work with the state legislature to restrict phone usage in the classroom even more than the limitations already in place. In 2020, AB 272 went into effect, a law that allowed school districts to limit or prohibit smartphone use, with few exceptions such as during an emergency.

Away for the Day, a nonprofit based in Marin County that has been advocating for this issue since 2012, believes simply asking kids to put their phones away is not enough because of how attractive cell phones can be.

“Our strong belief based on data is that cell phones and smart watches be put away for the day and give (students) this gift of not being asked to have to resist the incredible pull of the greatest attention-grabbing device ever created,” said founder Dr. Delaney Ruston, a primary care physician and documentary filmmaker based in Seattle.

The organization began when Ruston saw through her patients and children that screen time was having a major effect on kids’ social and emotional well-being. As a physician, Ruston says she was “amazed by the presence of cell phones in schools.” She went on create the documentary, “Screenagers.”

“When children and teens are in school, they should be focused on their studies — not their screens,” said Newsom in a statement last month.

A total ban is “certainly worthy of a conversation,” said Monterey Peninsula Unified School District Superintendent PK Diffenbaugh. “When you look at social media companies hiring cognitive behavior specialists to hook teens on their platforms, it’s a common issue and distraction. The challenge is how do you do it effectively.”

For most schools, a total ban would likely look like pouches or cell phone lockers that students would be required to put their phones in for the duration of the school day.

A study done by Common Sense Media last year found 97 percent of students used their phones during the school day. Of that, 32 percent used their phones to go on social media.

It’s not just teenagers addicted to their cell phones anymore. Parents are starting to give their children cell phones at younger ages, with 42 percent of kids having a phone by age 10.

“Kids are pretty addicted to their phones so it becomes difficult to police that at all times,” said Diffenbaugh. “We see that younger and younger kids are coming with smartphones. Kids play a lot of games on their phones … and are on social media too.”

An education campaign is necessary to educate both students and parents on the negative mental health impacts of constant access to smartphones, said Diffenbaugh.

The district wants to “educate students that they’re being manipulated intentionally by these companies and get them to see that taking a break for certain periods of the day would be challenging, but ultimately very beneficial for (them),” he said.

Research shows keeping phones away from kids during the school day keeps them more focused, improves test scores and promotes social skills. But in an era of lockdown drills and a rise in school shootings, cell phones often give students and parents a sense of security.

“If a child wants to reach their parents … it really is all about going through the main office,” said Ruston. “What’s great about that is it gives lots of touchpoints for students to build relationships within the school.”

“We need to retrain our families on how they can get in touch with students in case of emergencies,” said Diffenbaugh. Monterey Peninsula Unified uses the app Parentsquare, which can keep parents in touch with teachers and the front office. “It would be a change and something we really have to work through.”

According to Ruston, there is a misconception that having cell phones during an emergency can only benefit the student.

“During a major school emergency, school safety experts repeatedly say having phones buzzing and students making calls is much less safe for a host of reasons, than if students don’t have access to (phones),” she said. “We as a society need to do a better job to give that information to those parents that worry about those … types of emergencies. That we’re actually doing a service and improving (students’) safety when they don’t have those devices on them.”

As of now, there haven’t been any announcements about official plans to ban smartphones in school.

“As with anything at the state level, should there be a law passed, I would hope there be clear guidelines so there’s clarity for districts,” said Diffenbaugh. “If the state goes down this path, then a lot of thought needs to be put into this and a lot of resources need to be given to districts so should a law be put in place, we can properly follow it.”

©2024 MediaNews Group, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.