Newsom calls for ban on smartphone use in California schools

Governor. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday called for a statewide ban on smartphone use in California schools, joining a growing national effort to combat cyberbullying and classroom distraction by limiting access to the devices.

Mr. Newsom, who has four school-aged children, said he would work this summer with a state that significantly restricts phone use during the school day in the nation’s most populous state. His directive came hours before board members of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest school district, voted to approve their own smartphone ban that could begin in January.

“When children and teens go to school, they should focus on their studies, not their screens,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement.

Efforts to limit devices on campus have crossed political lines, as Republican-led states like Florida and Indiana have already instituted their own restrictions. New York City is leaving it to individual campuses to determine their own policies after abandoning a blanket cellphone ban in 2015, but Gov. Kathy Hochul said last month she would pursue a statewide ban in 2025.

California’s measures follow a call this week from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who said they are fueling a mental health crisis among adolescents.

“Teens who spend more than three hours a day on social media are twice as likely to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression,” says Dr. Murthy wrote Monday in an opinion piece for the New York Times. “And the average daily usage in this age group, as of summer 2023, was 4.8 hours.”

Many California school districts already place restrictions on cell phone use during the school day, but enforcing them can be a challenge for teachers and administrators, and policies are lenient enough that the devices can still disrupt school. daily activities.

In Los Angeles, for example, students are prohibited from using their phones during class, but are allowed to take them out during recess. School board members said Tuesday they now want to ban the use of phones and social media platforms throughout the day.

In the past, some parents have opposed bans because they feared losing access to their children in the event of a school shooting or other emergency. And teachers unions have been reluctant to take responsibility for having to enforce these policies, although they have also welcomed efforts to prevent distractions.

Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, said he wanted the California Legislature to tighten existing limits on cell phones in classrooms for the state’s more than 5.5 million public school students before the end of the Legislature’s session in August, an announcement that was first reported by Politico.

Mr. Newsom previously signed a law in 2019 allowing, but not requiring, districts to adopt cellphone bans. He signed an online safety law in 2022 requiring websites and apps to install protections for children, then followed up last year by urging California tech industry executives to drop legal action contesting these requirements.

Both laws passed with broad bipartisan support in a state legislature where such cooperation is rare and Democrats overwhelmingly control the agenda.

Last year, a study by Common Sense Media found that 97 percent of teens used a cell phone during the school day. A study released in April by the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of high school teachers and 33 percent of middle school teachers in the United States said cell phone distractions were a major problem in classrooms.

Mr. Newsom, whose two oldest children are teenagers, has personal experience with the difficulties of navigating a world in which the use of social media and smartphones has proliferated.

Last month, at the Milken Institute’s global conference in Los Angeles, Mr. Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, accused the tech industry of failing to solve social media addiction and other youth mental health issues exacerbated by technology. At one point, she said, she and her husband pulled one of their daughters out of school because of cyberbullying from adults, which was then imitated by the school’s classmates. ‘child.

Smartphone use in schools, usually addressed at the local level, has increasingly attracted the attention of officials in various states, with teachers complaining about the academic costs of the distraction and experts sounding the alarm on the impact of social media on adolescent mental health.

Last year, Florida passed a law requiring public school districts to ban students from using cell phones during school hours, and some districts are banning cell phones during the entire school day. Indiana approved a similar law this spring that will require districts to ban handheld wireless devices in classrooms starting next school year, with exceptions for emergencies.

Tuesday’s vote by the Los Angeles Unified School District board of trustees in favor of a smartphone ban would affect more than half a million students in more than 1,400 schools.

Longtime board member George McKenna voted against the proposal. He argued that teachers were already struggling to enforce existing restrictions and that parents needed to be able to reach their children during natural disasters and other emergencies. And, he predicts, it will only be a matter of time before students circumvent the ban.

“Children will be children, whatever their age,” he said.

But Nick Melvoin, one of the board members sponsoring the proposal, said the district is helping lead a national movement.

“When the government put warning labels on cigarettes almost 60 years ago, 42 percent of adults in this country smoked. Today, that figure has fallen to around 11 percent,” he said. “I think we’re going to be at the forefront here, and the students, and this whole city and this country, will benefit.”

Jonathan Wolfe Report contributed from Los Angeles.

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