LA School District, Fed up With Kids Distracted by Social Media, Considers Cellphone Ban


LOS ANGELES (Los Angeles Times/TNS) — Los Angeles school officials on Tuesday — fed up with kids distracted by social media and concerned about abuses such as cyberbullying — are poised to join a growing number of school systems across the country that are banning the use of cellphones during the school day.

Supporters say that a ban would lead to improved learning, less bullying, distraction and anxiety—and more meaningful communication with peers and adults.

The proposal was spearheaded by Los Angeles Unified School District board member Nick Melvoin.

“It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for years as I’ve just walked around campuses and seen kids on their phones and in class with their AirPods in,” said Melvoin.

Co-sponsoring the resolution are board President Jackie Goldberg and board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin. A fourth vote is required to pass the measure in the seven-member body.

The resolution would not immediately put a ban into effect. It directs staff to “develop and present to the public” policies that would prohibit student use of cellphones and social media “during the entire school day,” including lunch and breaks. Input would be solicited from “experts in the field, labor partners, staff, students and parents,” and details would come back to the school board for approval within 120 days.

Elements to be worked out include different approaches for various age groups and a range of technologies, such as smartwatches.

Options under consideration include providing cellphone lockers or pouches that keep devices locked up and inaccessible until they’re tapped against a magnetic device when exiting campus. Technology also could be used to block access to social media platforms.

“More kids are getting phones at younger ages,” Melvoin said. “They’re bringing them to campus. And then I don’t remember as much phone-based drug sales. Or coordinating fights or some of the cyberbullying.” Key evidence at confidential expulsion hearings sometimes includes students’ text messages, he said.

The policy would go into effect in January 2025.

The largest employee unions did not offer an immediate reaction to the proposal when contacted last week.

Some parents, however, want their children to have cellphones for safety and communication and school administrators say the ban could be difficult to enforce.

There are also parents and employees who support the proposal.

District high school teacher Terri Derrickson Barraza wrote in a social media post that she “would love to see some type of ban on cell phones BUT ONLY if the district is going to back up the ban with logical consequences. If we are passing a ban with no backbone simply for PR reasons, it just makes my job harder.”

The resolution did not specify a penalty, but the most obvious response to a violation would be for a phone to be confiscated for a period of time deemed appropriate.

Although Melvoin acknowledges that his own observations about the harms of cellphones are anecdotal, the board resolution cites research in line with the proposed policy.

The resolution cites a national survey on drug use and health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that found that among those born after 1995, anxiety increased 139% from 2010 to 2020, coinciding with the rise in smartphones and social media.

Researchers note that a correlation between two trends does not mean that one caused the other.

In addition, the U.S. surgeon general wrote in a 2023 advisory that social media may be linked to a growing mental health crisis among teens.

The resolution also cites a 2016 Common Sense Media survey that found that half of teens feel “addicted” to their phones. A 2023 study of 200 students by the same group found that 97% of 11- to 17-year-olds used their phones during the school day.

The resolution also states that there is evidence that “limiting cellphone usage and social media access during the school day increases academic performance and has positive effects on student mental health.”

Districts and schools across the country have adopted policies restricting student smartphone use. In 2023, public schools in Florida began prohibiting student phone use during instructional time and blocking access to social media on district Wi-Fi. Oklahoma, Kansas, Vermont, Ohio, Louisiana and Pennsylvania have introduced similar legislation, according to the resolution.

California Assembly Bill 3216, introduced in February, would require school districts to adopt a policy to limit or prohibit the student use of smartphones while at school or under the supervision of a school employee. The law would go into effect July 1, 2026.

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