Virginia joins other states with effort to restrict cellphones in schools

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — (AP) — Virginia on Tuesday joined a growing number of states that are pushing for cellphone restrictions in public schools, citing concerns over students' academic achievement and mental health.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order to establish state guidance and model policies for local school systems to adopt by January.

“Studies indicate that students who use their phones during class learn less and achieve lower grades,” Youngkin's order stated. It also cited an “alarming mental health crisis” among adolescents, which is partly driven by cellphones and social media.

Last year, Florida became the first state to crack down on phones in school with a new law. Indiana and Ohio passed their own laws this year, while several other states have recently introduced what is becoming known as "phone-free schools" legislation.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 76% of public schools prohibited “non-academic cell phone use” during the 2021-2022 school year.

In Virginia, school districts have been increasingly banning or severely restricting students’ phone use. For example, Loudoun County Public Schools, in northern Virginia, passed a new policy last month that generally bans elementary school students from using phones during the school day.

Middle school students are allowed to use their phones before or after school but otherwise are expected to store their phones in their lockers. In high school, students are expected to silence their phones and place them in a classroom cubby or storage location during instructional time.

Dan Adams, a spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools, said the school system will have to wait and see what specific directives come from the state. But he said the school system is “confident that our policy is age-appropriate and addresses electronics-free instructional time."

The school board for Hanover County Public Schools, outside Richmond, has been focused the issue at length in recent months. And it planned to discuss it at a Tuesday board meeting, assistant superintendent Chris Whitley said.

In the state capital of Richmond, Youngkin's order had the full support of the superintendent of public schools.

“We piloted a cellphone ban last year in some of our high schools and middle schools, and we saw more student engagement in class and fewer distractions throughout the day,” Jason Kamras said. “On top of that, students reported spending more time talking with their peers."

James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, called on the state “to approach this issue with a nuanced perspective.”

“Our priority remains ensuring that policies are practical, enforceable and in the best interest of our educators, students and families,” he said in a statement.

Youngkin's order calls for gathering public input through listening sessions, while other steps include establishing a detailed definition of “cell phone free education."

Todd Reid, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, said in an email that school divisions will need to adopt policies by Jan. 1.

“In the legal sense, think of ‘guidance’ as a synonym for ‘regulations,’" he wrote. “We will be going through the official regulatory process.”

But executive orders over local education policy can be difficult to enforce.

Last year, the Youngkin administration finalized regulations outlining policies for transgender students, including a rule that banned transgender girls from participating on girls' sports teams. Some local school systems refused to adopt the regulations, criticizing them as discriminatory.


Diaz reported from Washington. Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia.

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