Schools, Parents Disagree over Bans on Student Mobile Phones

A growing number of schools in the United States are limiting how much students can use their cell phones. Educators say that phones distracting and keeping children from learning.

But some parents agree and are pushing back against the policy.

Bans on the devices were on the rise before the COVID-19 Pandemic. Since schools reopened, some schools have had even more reason to restrict use due to their struggles with student behavior and mental health.

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Parent back

During the time of online learning, parents were persistent access to their children. Some did not want to give up that access. Others say they fear losing touch with their children in the event of a school shooting.

With more debate over how subjects like race are taught in schools, some parents also see phone restrictions as a way to keep them out of their children‘ education.

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Shannon Moser has students in eighth and ninth grade grades in Rochester, New York. She said she felt parents were being pushed away when the local school system locked students’ phones. She noted that many parents on both sides of the political divide feel the same way.

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“Everything is just like that political, so divisive. And I think there’s just a general fear of parents about what’s happening with their kids during the day,” Moser said. The Associated Press. There is a form of accountabilityshe said, when students are able to record what is going on around them.

Students at Washington Junior High School leaving classes for the day use the unlocking mechanism to open the bags that contained their cell phones sealed during the school day, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic )

Students at Washington Junior High School leaving classes for the day use the unlocking mechanism to open the bags that contained their cell phones sealed during the school day, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic )

Increasing restrictions

​​​​The National Center for Education Statistics found that about 65 percent of public schools banned cellphones in 2015. By the 2019-2020 school year, 76 percent of schools had restrictions in place. And the states of California and Tennessee recently passed laws allowing schools to ban phones.

Now, educators see a need to keep students from being distracted. During the pandemic, many students experienced learning loss.

Liz Keren-Kolb is a professor of educational technologies at the University of Michigan. She said school officials may feel they can restrict mobile devices because of parental concerns about high amounts of screen time during the pandemic. But she said that there is a wide range of opinions from parents on the matter.

“You still have the parents who want to have that direct line of communication,” she said. “But I think there’s more to it sympathy and an understanding of their child being able to put their devices away so they can really focus on learning in the classroom.”

In western Pennsylvania, the Washington School District began banning cell phones this year because educators complained about them.

Students were on their phones in the halls and at lunch tables. Some would call home or answer calls in the middle of class, said high school teacher Treg Campbell.

School system head George Lammay said the ban was the right choice. He said the ban on keeping students was focused on school, “not trying to limit their contact with families.”

In some cases, pushback from parents has resulted in policy changes.

In the Brush School District in Colorado, cell phones were banned after teachers were concerned about online courses bullying. When parents pushed back, the school system held a community meeting, most of which argued against the ban. Parents said they wanted their children to have access to their phones.

The policy was changed to allow phones on school grounds. But they must be turned off and put away. The school also said it would allow some students to use their phones for special reasons.

“There is no intention to say cell phones are bad,” Wilson said. Instead, it’s “‘How do we manage this in a way that makes sense for everyone?'”

Kolb said there is no perfect answer when it comes to phones in schools.

“It’s really about making sure we’re educating students and parents about being healthy customs with their digital devices,” she said.

I’m Dan Novak.

Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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Words in This Story

distraction — v. to cause to stop thinking about or paying attention to someone or something and to think about or pay attention to someone or something else instead

access — n. a way to get close to, at, or with something or someone

grade — n. level of study undertaken by a student during one year

politics — v. to be involved in politics in a way that makes people less likely to agree

a child— n. a young person

accountable — adj. necessary to be responsible for something

sympathy — n. the feeling that you understand and share the experiences and feelings of another person

focus — v. to focus your attention or effort on something in particular

bully — n. someone who frightens, hurts, or threatens smaller or weaker people

intention — v. what you plan to do or achieve

custom — n. normal mode of transport

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