Virginia to restrict student cellphone use in K-12 public schools

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(NEW YORK) — Virginia is set to restrict the use of cellphones in schools, joining a growing list of states that are banning or limiting use of the devices in schools, citing concerns about students who are spending too much time in front of screens.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order Tuesday to establish “cell phone-free” classrooms in all Virginia K-12 public schools.

Executive Order 33 requires the state Department of Education to team up with partners to set guidelines for restricting phones in K-12 school classrooms by the fall, which would then be implemented by Jan. 1, 2025.

The executive order highlighted mental health concerns among adolescents, including anxiety and depression, as a main factor behind the decision, stemming in part from teens’ significant use of popular social media platforms, which, according to an American Psychological Association report published in April, is an average of 4.8 hours per day. The order also said students who use phones during school days tend to learn less and earn lower grades.

The order suggested the use of pouches or dedicated cell phone “lockers” as potential ways students can store phones during school days. It also doesn’t completely ban cellphones and stipulates that the education department needs to address processes for parents to communicate with their children in times of emergencies and for everyday issues, such as forgotten items and pick-up times.

In a June op-ed, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called for warning labels on social media sites, similar to warning labels on tobacco products, in order to address “the defining public health challenge of our time.”

Virginia’s executive order comes one month after the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest school district, passed a ban on cellphones on June 18, which will take effect by the spring semester of the 2024-2025 school year.

States like Florida, Indiana and Ohio have also passed similar laws, and several other states are considering doing the same with legislative proposals in the works.

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