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Where Do Sacramento-Area Schools Stand on Smartphone Ban?

With at least two potential bills dealing with smartphones in schools moving through the California legislature, some schools in Folsom and Roseville have already implemented policies limiting phone access during class.

phone with padlock and "don't use me" text
(TNS) — Gov. Gavin Newsom is backing proposals to limit the use of smartphones in schools.

“When children and teens are in school, they should be focused on their studies — not their screens,” Newsom, a father to four school-aged children, said in a statement Tuesday.

The announcement comes a day after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called for a warning label on social media platforms, like those on cigarette containers, citing negative effects on youth mental health.

“Adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression symptoms, and the average daily use in this age group, as of the summer of 2023, was 4.8 hours,” Murthy wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “A surgeon general’s warning label, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe.”

Nearly three-quarters of high school teachers and a third of middle school teachers see cell phone distractions as a “major problem” in the classroom, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. After banning cell phones, schools in Spain and the United Kingdom saw reduced levels of bullying and improved test scores. A private school in Naples, Fla. reported improvements in student mental well-being, test scores and social skills after banning phones two years ago.

A 2019 California law allows school districts to adopt policies to limit cell phones in classrooms, but it has had mixed uptake.

In the Sacramento area, a few school districts have already started to implement policies limiting cell phone use during school hours. Folsom Cordova Unified School District banned the use of mobile devices at its middle schools at the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year. The schools used Yondr pouches, which secure phones during the day while allowing students to keep the phone on their person.

Roseville City School District is the most recent local district to adopt a policy to limit cell phone use on its campuses. Beginning in the fall, middle school students in the district must keep their phones off “from the moment they arrive at school until the moment school ends.”

“As the Surgeon General affirmed, social media is harming the mental health of our youth,” Newsom said. “Building on legislation I signed in 2019, I look forward to working with the Legislature to restrict the use of smartphones during the school day.”

Newsom did not endorse a specific bill, but there are at least two moving through the legislature that would deal with phones in schools. One, authored by Assembly member Josh Hoover, R-Folsom, would require school districts to develop and regularly update policies limiting smartphones in classrooms. Another from Sen. Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles, would let districts limit social media use on campus.

The California School Boards Association supports Stern’s bill but opposes Hoover’s. Spokesman Troy Flint said “these decisions are best made at the local level by people who understand, reside, are invested in, and accountable to the communities they serve.”

“We support legislation, such as SB 1283, that empowers school board members to restrict or limit school cell phone usage on campus if that decision makes the most sense for their students and local communities. We oppose legislation that would require school districts to prohibit cell phone usage as a blanket measure with no consideration given to the varying demographics, opinions, lifestyles, and needs of students and families in different parts of the state,” he said.

Hoover’s office discussed his bill with the governor’s staff Tuesday, according to a spokesperson for the Republican lawmaker. A spokesperson for Stern did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

©2024 The Sacramento Bee. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.