Consider a ban on cell phones in schools

John Mueller,

The time has come for school districts to put their feet down. It’s time to consider banning cell phones in schools, especially the high school. No, this isn’t about what books, videos or information is made available to students. The time to ban cell phones in schools, New Prague Schools, in this case, has arrived.

Just over a month ago, Minnesota lawmakers backed an education plan calling for school districts to implement a plan prohibiting book bans statewide, adjusting plans for literacy programs and implementing policies on the use of cell phones in schools. To date, the New Prague School District has had no formal discussions on cell phones even though there is at least anecdotal evidence cell phones are a deterrent to educating children.

Imagine a teacher facing a white board diagramming, say, the relationship between the three branches of government, the executive, the judicial and legislative. The teacher turns around to face the class and finds three, perhaps four students checking out the latest TikTok post one student posted eviscerating another. The teacher tells the students to put their phones away.

Two of the students ignore the directive. Imagine walking through the hallway of a high school and groups of children are not interacting but rather glued to their phones. Think this can’t happen? Think again.

The arguments against student cell phone use at school are explicit, serious, and incontrovertible: They’re a classroom distraction, an ongoing disruption to users and those nearby, and a conduit for online bullying, Elizabeth Hauberk wrote in Education Weekly last fall. “So severe is the perceived risk they pose to students’ learning and mental health, that widespread bans on cell phones in schools are taking effect around the globe, with England being the latest to urge a complete ban of the devices by students on school campuses."

Can such a policy take roots in the United States? The Los Angeles Unified School District board recently passed a policy to quash rising youth anxiety and cyberbullying associated with social media, according to an Education Weekly story. In Wisconsin, phones are allowed before and after school, during passing times, lunch and free periods. They are prohibited from use in phy-ed/athletic locker rooms and bathrooms. Phones are not allowed in middle and high school classrooms.

An EdWeek Research Center survey from last fall found many high schools allowed cell phone use in certain areas and times on campus, such as lunch, passing periods, in hallways, and outside on school grounds. Fifty percent of schools allow cell phones in the classroom so long as teachers allowed it and 10 percent allowed cell phones in classrooms regardless of whether the teacher wanted it. Only 9 percent of high schools banned cell phones completely on campus.

In Minnesota, where DFLers and Republicans work harder at opposing one another rather than finding common ground seems to be seldom-visited territory, lawmakers seem to be making progress on rules on cell phone use.

“We are getting somewhere on convincing schools to limit cell phone use. There are a lot of challenges with mental health in schools and this is the most low-hanging fruit,” said Rep. Kristin Robbins, R-Maple Grove, said in a MinnPost published story on education policy. “I have schools that have limited cell phone use during instruction time and it has completely changed the game in terms of focus, climate, fights, engagement and the teachers are happier.”

Is there opposition to cellphone bans at schools? Sure. Some argue a ban is just another rule for school districts to try and implement, that school districts are drowning in regulations and need a break. While that could be true, imagine the teacher in a civics class who turns around and finds three students on their phones. Without a policy to back up a directive to put the phone away, the directive is toothless.

Others argue excessive rules take away student independence and the responsibility we want them to learn and accept. Ideally, this is true, but we all know the cesspool social media presents and its threat to children’s mental health.

The lamest argument is parents not being be able to contact their children during the day. If that is a need, call the school and a message to the child can be relayed. And for those who argue cell phones – computers doubling as a communication devices – serve as a computer for students to use for educational purposes, the New Prague School District spends money, plenty of it, annually on its 1-to-1 computer program to level the field. In fiscal year 2025- 2026, the district will pay approximately $207,000 in lease payments for both of these sets of Chromebooks for fifth through ninth-graders alone.

Like any new idea, this one will be discussed. We know the district, which is pondering another levy request, is in no hurry to annoy potential voters willing to support this request. This is an issue worth, of implementation ASAP.



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