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Los Angeles school board will ban students from using cell phones during the school day. But questions loom on how to do it


By Holly Yan and Debra Goldschmidt, CNN

(CNN) — Students in the nation’s second-largest school district will no longer be able to use cell phones during the school day after the Los Angeles Unified School District’s board voted 5-2 in favor of the ban Tuesday.

The move highlights a frustration shared by educators across the country. In the United States, 72% of high school teachers said cell phone distraction “is a major problem in the classroom,” according to a report last week by the Pew Research Center.

The Los Angeles ban, which will take effect by the spring 2025 semester, goes beyond the school district’s existing policy, which bans students from using cell phones during class instruction and limits social media use at school to “educational purposes.”

That policy took effect in 2011. Since then, smartphone use has exploded – both inside and outside the classroom. And students’ addiction to their phones has hurt their socialization, their mental health and their academic success, board member Nick Melvoin said.

“Our students are glued to their cell phones – not unlike adults,” said Melvoin, a sponsor of the new ban.

“They’re surreptitiously scrolling in school, in class time. They have their head in their hands walking down the hallways. They’re not talking to each other or playing at lunch or recess because they have their AirPods in.”

Research suggests “excessive cell phone use impacts adolescents mental health and well-being and is associated with increased stress, anxiety, depression, sleep issues, feelings of aggression, and suicidal thoughts,” board members supporting the ban wrote.

In addition, “Research indicates that limiting cell phone usage and social media access during the school day increases academic performance and has positive effects on student mental health,” the proponents said.

Questions remain before the ban takes effect

But even board members who voted for the cell phone ban expressed concerns and the need for more answers.

Among the concerns: how students would be able to communicate with parents in the event of an emergency, such as a mass shooting.

“I think in emergencies and with parent communication, this is definitely where a lot of parents have expressed their concerns to me,” Melvoin said.

“I think it’s such a tragic sign of the times, that that is what we initially think of. And we all need to do better in this country when it comes to gun violence prevention and keeping our students safe.”

The school board intends to seek input from students, parents, staff and experts on the best ways to implement the ban in all LAUSD schools by the spring semester of the 2024-25 school year.

Board member Rocio Rivas said “there are strong arguments on both sides” of the debate. As a mother, Rivas said she was relieved to hear from her son after his school went on lockdown. As a board member who supported the cell phone ban, Rivas said the school district must find ways to make sure parents can be adequately informed in case of an emergency.

Failing to notify parents could lead to unintended consequences, she said.

“If there’s an emergency – parents, if they cannot reach you on the phone – they’re going to be right there at the school,” Rivas said. And that could put “themselves in danger” or create other problems.

Board members also amended the proposed ban to consider the needs of students who are not fluent in English and might need access to a smartphone if that’s the only way they can get adequate translations.

Melvoin said the ban could be implemented in various ways. For example, some schools could ban students’ cell phones from even entering the school, while other schools might require cell phones to be stored in lockers or magnetic pouches.

“There will be differences between schools,” LAUSD School Board President Jackie Goldberg said.

“But the idea is very simple: If you bring your phone to school at all, you park it at the beginning,” she said. “You’ll put it in a locker or a pouch … and you’ll pick it up on your way home.”

The school board has 120 days to update the district’s existing cell phone policy. After the policy has been updated, it will be presented to the public at a future board meeting, Melvoin’s communication director Ally Salvaria said.

More states clamp down on students’ cell phones at school

California’s state legislature passed a law in 2019 allowing – but not requiring – school districts to limit student smartphone use at school.

A new bill making its way through the state legislature would require limiting or banning cell phone use by students in the public schools statewide by July 1, 2026, according to the most recent version of the bill.

Both of the California measures are referenced in the LAUSD proposal.

Supporters of LAUSD’s ban cited Oklahoma, Kansas, Vermont, Ohio, Louisiana and Pennsylvania as states that have introduced similar legislation.

Board members also noted Florida has blocked access to social media on school district Wi-Fi.

While the LAUSD vote happened at a regularly scheduled board meeting, it coincidently followed an topical essay by US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

The op-ed, published Monday in The New York Times, called for warning labels on social media apps based on what’s known about the harm they pose to adolescents.

CNN’s Laura Studley and Richard Davis contributed to this report.

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