Governor Youngkin Wants to Limit or Eliminate Cell Phone Use in Schools
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Governor Youngkin Wants to Limit or Eliminate Cell Phone Use in Schools

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RICHMOND — When Garett Smith received word of Virginia Gov. Youngkin’s executive order on cellphone use in schools, the Staunton City Schools superintendent was in a meeting with school principals on the same topic.

“We were literally in a meeting discussing what our cellphone policy would look like next year,” Smith said.

Youngkin issued an executive order Tuesday directing the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to develop guidelines for public schools to adopt local policies and procedures establishing cellphone-free education.

“This necessary action will promote a healthier and more purposeful learning environment where every child can learn,” Youngkin said in a press release. “Creating cell phone-free and social media-free learning environments in Virginia’s K-12 education system will benefit students, parents and teachers.”

VDOE is scheduled to release draft guidelines by Aug. 15. After hearings and other opportunities to solicit public comment on the policy, VDOE will issue final guidelines in September for local education departments to adopt policies and procedures for cellphone-free education by Jan. 1, 2025.

“We were already moving in this direction, but the governor’s order just strengthens our position,” Smith said.

Staunton School’s current policy prohibits students from using cell phones, earphones, or other electronic communication devices during school hours.

“All personal electronic devices must be turned off and stored in accordance with school requirements during the school day,” the student handbook reads. “Exceptions may be made for students with documented health care plans to accommodate physical accommodations, such as glucose monitoring. Students may not record audio or video, or otherwise capture the image or sound of another person or persons on school property, in school vehicles, or at any school-sponsored event.”

Smith said there was a time when teachers believed cell phones could be a useful teaching tool.

“But right now, there’s no educational function that they can serve that a Chromebook can’t,” he said. “In today’s environment, I don’t see the need for us to use mobile phones to educate our students.”

Youngkin also announced that VDOE and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services will provide a combined $500,000 in existing funds to support the implementation of this initiative.

A study published in The American Psychological Association in April of this year found that teens in the United States spend an average of 4.8 hours per day on social media apps. Of teens with the highest social media use, 41% rate their overall mental health as poor or very poor, compared with 23% of those with the lowest use.

“Cellphones and digital media have caused teens and youth to disconnect from the real world, have greater mental health concerns, and have caused significant disruptions to important daily learning opportunities in their classrooms,” Lisa Coons, director of public education, said in a statement.. “Parents and teachers understand how important it is to create a mobile-free education in our schools so that students can focus on teaching and learning during the school day.”

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Patrick Hite is a reporter at The News Leader. Story ideas and tips are always welcome. Contact Patrick (he/his/his) at [email protected] and on Instagram @hitepatrick. Subscribe to our newsletter at newsleader.com