Arizona schools restrict phone use in classrooms
7 mins read

Arizona schools restrict phone use in classrooms

Arizona schools restrict phone use in classrooms

Lowell Elementary School is a Phoenix school that has guidelines in place that limit the use of wireless communication devices in the classroom. (Photo: Stella Subasic/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – As a high school teacher, Dana Ramos didn’t restrict cellphone use in her classroom. Now, as principal of Lowell Elementary School, a K-8 school in Phoenix, Ramos has adopted guidelines to limit access to devices during the school day.

Ramos has been an educator for 11 years, first as a teacher and then as an administrator, and has witnessed the integration of technology in the classroom and the range of uses for the phone.

“I saw that technology and the use of a cell phone was something that was really beneficial,” Ramos said. “Students who didn’t have a computer could go to Google on their phone and access their homework. I saw that being useful for different types of projects where you could use pictures, videos or record audio.”

Dana Ramos has been in education for 11 years and is the principal of Lowell Elementary School in Phoenix. She has implemented a phone ban in the classroom for the 2023-2024 school year. (Photo courtesy of Dana Ramos)

Dana Ramos has been in education for 11 years and is the principal of Lowell Elementary School in Phoenix. She has implemented a phone ban in the classroom for the 2023-2024 school year. (Photo courtesy of Dana Ramos)

“On the other hand… cell phones are distracting,” she continued. Students are talking to others, taking photos and videos, scrolling through social media, “when they should be paying attention to the lesson in class.”

A 2023 Common Sense Media report found that 97% of students aged 11 to 17 used their phones during the school day. More than 50% of that use was on social media platforms, including YouTube, which distracted from lessons and other educational activities.

Across Arizona, school districts are restricting or banning phone use during the school day to reduce distractions. An added benefit may be reducing the negative mental health effects associated with social media use on phones.

The influence of social media

The rise of social media has not only increased the number of distractions in the classroom, but also heightened the feelings of insecurity young people may feel.

“Kids in middle school and high school are in the thick of comparing themselves to others developmentally,” said Katey McPherson, a youth mental health advocate and educator in Chandler. “But now you have an extra layer of comparison where you have that lens on your group of friends, your classmates, strangers, celebrities and musicians.”

In a 2022 Digital Wellness Lab survey of teens ages 13–17, 46% of respondents said social media use hurts their body image.

“High school is a time in your life when you’re very sensitive to how people perceive you and you’re trying to figure out for yourself, ‘Who am I? What do I want to look like?’” Ramos said. “The normal insecurities that kids have at that age are amplified by social media because you have filters and all these different ways you can distort images to make them look a certain way.”

In May, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a warning about the impact of social media on youth mental health, saying more needs to be done to minimize harmful effects and maximize positive effects. Murthy went further in an editorial in the New York Times, calling for warning labels on social media platforms about the potential risks to young people’s mental health.

McPherson warns that it is difficult to blame social media alone for mental health problems, although some effects, such as arguments and headaches, can be linked to phone use.

Katey McPherson speaks to school principals, students and parents across the country about responsible phone use. (Photo courtesy of Katey McPherson)

Katey McPherson speaks to school principals, students and parents across the country about responsible phone use. (Photo courtesy of Katey McPherson)

“A lot of the stomach aches and headaches that kids report, especially in middle school, have to do with what happens on the phone: getting into conflicts, being left out, (breaking up) with someone, people being rude to you,” she said. “A lot of things happen on those phones that make kids go to the office. … The visits are psychosomatic.”

Social media also has its benefits, and McPherson stressed that it should not be “demonized.”

“It’s a powerful tool for them to promote themselves, become entrepreneurs, network, recruit for sports and other areas,” she said.

Connection is one of the main reasons people use social media. According to a 2022 study, nearly 80% of participants said they felt socially connected through social media. But Ramos warned that this connection can be a curse.

“What happens at school, all the school chatter, now follows kids home,” she said.

Mesa Public Schools filed a lawsuit against Meta, Snapchat, TikTok and other social media companies in 2023, alleging they harm youth’s mental health. Several other Arizona school districts have joined the lawsuit or are considering legal action.

Enforcement problem

The problem with preventing students from using their phones in the classroom is enforcement. The Lowell Elementary School handbook requires that students’ phones be turned off and in their backpacks during the school day, and teachers have the authority to take steps to reduce phone distractions.

“For students, a cell phone feels very personal,” Ramos said. “Teachers are put in a position where they’re trying to respect the student and give them what they need to be successful, while also being the person who enforces the boundaries in the educational space.”

Some teachers’ frustrations with phone use have prompted them to leave education. In May, a high school biology teacher went viral when he quit his job at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, citing students’ phone addiction.

“A lot of teachers are leaving the profession for a variety of reasons, and the phones are part of that,” McPherson said. “They’re tired of struggling and trying to teach.”

McPherson said that to combat phone use in classrooms, administrators need to take decisive steps.

“They have to be brave,” she said. “This is long overdue.”

Attempts to address the issue in the Legislature have failed. In April, Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed House Bill 2793, which aimed to restrict student access to the internet, social media and wireless communication devices. She argued that many schools were already dealing with the issue and that state legislation was “unnecessary.”

State Superintendent Tom Horne called the veto “irrational” in a statement to Cronkite News, urging parents to pressure school districts to ban the phones.

How parents can help limit phone use

Parents play a key role in limiting screen time both at home and at school.

Ramos said that while some parents want to have their child with them so they can move around in an emergency, they don’t realize that the phone itself is a distraction.

“I don’t think parents think about what it means to have these tools in the educational space and how they can actually be very distracting for students,” she said.

McPherson noted that children sense how their parents use mobile devices and recommended that parents serve as role models for them.

“The best predictor of how your child will use their device is how they see you using your device,” McPherson said.