Virginia Governor Orders Ban on Cellphone Use in Public School Classrooms

Virginia Governor Orders Ban on Cellphone Use in Public School Classrooms

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has issued an executive order to ban cellphone use in public school classrooms across the state. The directive mandates the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to develop guidance for schools to implement “cell phone-free education” policies. This initiative aims to create a healthier and more focused educational environment by reducing distractions and limiting students’ exposure to addictive cell phones and social media.

The executive order emphasizes the need for age-appropriate restrictions during instructional time. It also includes protocols to ensure parents can contact their children during emergencies. The state will allocate $500,000 to support this initiative.

Governor Youngkin highlighted the importance of this action in promoting a conducive learning environment. He pointed out that excessive cellphone use contributes to a teen mental health crisis and declining academic performance. The new rules may involve using dedicated cellphone pouches, lockers, or other means to restrict access to digital devices, including smartwatches, tablets, and personal computers.

The VDOE is tasked with issuing final guidance by mid-September, and school divisions are expected to adopt the new policies by January 1. The process will involve engaging with parents, students, teachers, and other community members to develop effective and acceptable policies.

Janet Kelly, the state secretary of health and human resources, supported the initiative, citing the harmful effects of excessive screen time on children’s physical and mental health. She noted that the order aligns with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s call to protect young people from the mental health risks associated with social media.

Virginia joins a growing list of states that have introduced measures to restrict cellphone use in classrooms. Recently, California Governor Gavin Newsom expressed support for similar restrictions, and Indiana passed a law requiring schools to adopt policies limiting cellphone use during instructional time. Florida has already implemented the most restrictive law, banning cellphone use during class and blocking social media access on school Wi-Fi.

The debate over cellphone use in schools has been ongoing, with educators complaining about students being distracted by texting, scrolling, and playing games during class. Some schools have already implemented their own bans, using methods like magnetic pouches to lock away devices for the day.

A study by Common Sense Media found that 97% of teens use cellphones during the school day. Researchers have linked cellphone use to declining academic performance and increased mental health struggles among teens. The urgency to address this issue has grown as schools work to recover from learning losses due to the pandemic.

Parents are divided on the issue. Some support tighter restrictions, while others believe decisions about cellphone use should be left to parents. Concerns about the need to contact students during emergencies or school lockdowns also play a role in the debate.

Education has been a key focus for Governor Youngkin, who campaigned on a platform of “parents’ rights.” The executive order aims to balance the need to reduce screen time with ensuring parents can still reach their children when necessary.

The VDOE will host listening sessions to gather input from parents and stakeholders on the best approaches for Virginia. The department will then issue guidance on best practices and policies for school districts to implement. The final guidance is expected by September, with school divisions required to adopt the policies by January 1.

Senator Schuyler T. VanValkenburg, a public-school teacher, praised the approach for allowing the state to gather feedback before issuing guidance. He noted the bipartisan support for addressing the problem of smartphones in classrooms.

Many Virginia school districts already have rules restricting cellphone use, and others are considering how to strengthen such policies. For example, the Fairfax County School Board recently voted to develop a pilot program for storing cellphones during the school day. The superintendent is expected to present the program to the school board this summer.

David Walrod, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, acknowledged the need for tighter restrictions. He noted that while phones can be useful learning tools, they often become distractions. He expressed cautious support for the governor’s initiative, despite differing views on other issues.

In Loudoun County, the school board recently approved a policy restricting cellphone use during class time. The policy received significant input from parents, teachers, and students. In Arlington County, a parent group has been advocating for a countywide policy requiring students to stow phones in lockers during the day.

Amy Rzepka, a parent and board member of Arlington Parents for Education, expressed support for the statewide initiative. She emphasized the negative impacts of phones on students’ mental health and academics and welcomed the state’s efforts to address the issue.

Governor Youngkin’s executive order represents a significant step toward creating a more focused and healthier educational environment in Virginia’s public schools. By January 1, 2025, local school divisions are expected to have adopted new guidance on cellphone use, marking a statewide effort to reduce distractions and improve student well-being.

Source: NBC News, The Washington Post, 13News Now

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